Feb. 12 2014 10:24 AM

This LGBT-friendly city would be a great fit for the first openly gay player

Michael Sam
Photo by Marcus Quertyus

On Jan. 15, U-T San Diego sports writer Eddie Brown did a mock National Football League draft, and in the second round, with the 57th overall pick, he had the San Diego Chargers selecting University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam. Sam is the player who, this past Sunday, announced to the public what his college teammates already knew: He's gay.

Brown has done several updated mock drafts since then—before Sam's announcement—and no longer has the Chargers picking him. On Feb. 3, Brown had Sam falling to the 87th overall pick, two spots ahead of the Chargers' place in the third round. And that's higher than many other draft analysts had Sam getting chosen. NFLDraftScout.com has him as the 110th top prospect.

Sam's stock had fallen because he's seen as too small—at 6-foot-2, 260 pounds—to be a defensive end in the NFL, but he might be switched to outside linebacker, and, as such, could be a good fit for the Chargers, who analysts say should be looking to draft a top pass rusher. That's what Sam does, and he does it well, having been named the co-Defensive Player of the Year in the Southeastern Conference.

We think it would be fantastic if the Chargers' were to pick Sam in the May draft. There's no doubt they could have him in the second round, and he'll likely still be available in the third round. If so, they should grab him. Not only would Sam be a good fit for the team; San Diego would be a good fit for Sam. The city is well-known as being gay-friendly, with a large, vibrant LGBT community in Hillcrest, University Heights and North Park and a penchant for electing gay and lesbian civic leaders.

Sam would immediately cast a positive light on San Diego and the Chargers. He's extremely well-spoken and, by accounts, loquacious and gregarious, so he'd be a great ambassador for the city and a brilliant role model for local kids who might be needing someone courageous to look up to who's wearing their favorite team's colors. Even one of Sam's agents told the U-T on Monday that San Diego would be a great place for Sam to land.

Sam, as you probably know, will be the first openly gay athlete in the big-four U.S sports leagues: the NFL, the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League. He may not be an activist, and he may not be Jackie Robinson, but he is a trailblazer. Because he had previously outed himself to his college teammates, he had no choice but to reveal his sexual orientation publicly; NFL scouts, who have been known to pry into players' sexual preferences, would have found out in no time. In fact, many in the media knew before the big announcement to ESPN and The New York Times.

We'd like to think he'd have done it anyway. After all, he's said his sexual orientation posed less of a challenge than his family circumstances: Two siblings have died, and a third is presumed dead, and  two others are in prison. "I wanted to succeed and be a beacon of hope in my family," he told The New York Times.

Now he can be another sort of beacon—for gay athletes who are terrified about being themselves in an industry dominated by macho knuckle-draggers.

And wouldn't it be great for the Chargers' top brass to be a beacon for NFL executives? Sports Illustrated talked to a dozen general managers, coaches and scouts who, in two different stories, said, citing various reasons, that the NFL isn't yet ready for an openly gay player.

"Do you want to be the team to quote-unquote ‘break that barrier?'" one scout was quoted as asking rhetorically.

Why, yes, actually—thank you for asking. We'd love for the team that breaks that barrier to play in San Diego. How proud we would be. Let's just hope the Chargers weren't represented in those Sport Illustrated stories.

Wherever he lands, we wish Sam the best of luck in the draft and in his career, and we salute him for his strength, determination and pride in who he is.

What do you think? Write to editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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