After all the hype, all the ballyhoo, all the drama, all the controversy over a coming-out and a guy-to-guy smooch in the manly, macho world of professional football, the Michael Sam debut had all the oomph and fanfare of an afternoon nap.
This was ho meeting hum.
I mean, an openly gay man performing in the Canadian Football League was supposed to be a resonating moment, complete with bells, whistles, Roman candles and a 21-gun salute. Instead…let’s just say it reminded me of the Miss Peggy Lee classic, Is That All There Is?.
Cripes, man, as of this writing, pro football’s gay lunar landing hadn’t even attracted the attention of the website Outsports, the self-proclaimed Galactic Leader in Gay Sports. Their headline story 14 hours after the fact was the impending nuptuals of U.S. lesbian soccer star Megan Rapinoe and singer/songwriter Sara Cahoone. Ya, that’s right. A same-sex engagement was given top billing over Sam’s baptism under fire.
Let the record show that the lunar landing occurred on Friday evening, with four minutes and 58 ticks remaining in the opening quarter of a joust between the Montreal Alouettes and the homestanding Ottawa RedBlacks. That’s when Sam, an openly gay man, entered the fray, trotting on to the playing pitch at TD Place Stadium during a commercial break.
He lined up at rush end for the Als, and the historic moment was witnessed by 24,427 sets of eyes in the pews. Plus, of course, the assortment of usual suspects roaming the sidelines and TSN’s national television audience.
The large lads in pads then resumed regularly scheduled hostilities. No muss, no fuss. And no quarterback sacks or tackles for the cause celebre, who, through the duration of the exercise, was inserted into the defensive dozen for 12 plays and whose contribution was, predictably, that of a non-impactful, non-influential participant.
Basically, Sam, the former Southeastern Conference defensive player-of-the-year with the Missouri Tigers and seventh-round choice of the St. Louis Rams in the 2014 National Football League draft, was all fizzle and no sizzle.
So where do we go from here?
Is Michael Sam now just a football player to be judged and treated strictly on the merits of his activity between the lines, or is he still the gay football player?
Surely, those in the LGBT collective see him as a gay football player, someone who gives rise to hope for their youth. As much as gay kids know they can become doctors and lawyers and teachers and politicians and singers and actors and serve in the military, they now know the doors to professional football have been kicked open. They can walk through.
Sam, along with Alouettes ownership/management and the CFL, have tilled the soil and planted the seeds of possibility and opportunity. Gays can play pro football.
There’s only one question to be answered now: Can Michael Sam play pro football?
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.