Reaction to Sams shows progress

Published 1:09 am Wednesday, February 12, 2014

This year marks half a century since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, an event marking a huge step forward in the fight for racial equality.

Fifty years later, much of the bigotry that spawned the civil rights movement is a distant memory, and for many kids today, race is a non-issue. But that doesn’t mean the battles for equality have all been fought and won. But, a recent story from the world of college football may be a sign we are moving in the right direction.

The news that University of Missouri All-American defensive end Michael Sam is gay hit the mainstream media with the force of a freight train last week – but the real story is the lack of an impact it had on his teammates.

According to a story from ESPN, Sam came out to his teammates at MU earlier in the year, long before they Tigers became the surprise leader in the SEC East and nearly won the conference championship in only their second season in the league. Apparently, the news went over as if Sam had announced a change in major. No big deal.

Despite moves towards acceptance in many facets of society, the athletic world has continued to operate within a cloud of uncertainty about what openly gay athletes would mean for their sports. Would it cause division within the team? Would players be uncomfortable? Could they handle it? At Missouri, the answer is obviously, no –it’s not a big deal; and, yes – players can handle it.

Not only did players accept Sam without hesitation, but over 100 student athletes – kids in their early twenties at the oldest – kept their mouths shut about the announcement for months. It wasn’t their news to tell. They just played football. So did Sam, leading the defense to an 11-win season.

Now that Sam’s story has gone national, Missouri is being praised as a bastion of tolerance and the template for all other teams to follow when similar situations crop up. But, I’m not so sure it’s going to the problem so many expect. In fact, I think the reaction from Missouri students is just an example of a generational change; more of a preview of what to expect from other teams, rather than an example they should look to in order to see how they should react. I just don’t think kids today see it as such a big deal.

I know there is more to this topic than football, and for many, lots of other moral issues are tied into the subject. All I’m saying is 50 years ago, we had to have the president sign legislation to start the process of treating people of a different race with respect and equality. In 2014, maybe all we’ll need is the love and tolerance of the generation about to graduate college. If so, I think that’s good news for the future.