Why Is It News Anymore When an Gay Athlete ‘Comes Out’?

Over the weekend Michael Sam, a star Missouri defensive end, came out as gay.

He gave interviews to ESPN, The New York Times and Outsports, all of which broke the story.  Other media picked it up, including NBC, which is covering the Olympics.  He’s expected to be a mid-range pick for the NFL Draft

The simple question is — who cares?  A quick Google search produced a list of 230 athletes, including 13 in American football.

So being gay and an athlete isn’t exactly news.  Nor did his teammates at Mizzou think  it was particularly relevant: Missouri linebacker Donovan Bonner tweeted the team “knew of his status for 5 years and not one team member, coach, or staff member said anything.”

NFL policy is “to neither consider nor inquire about sexual orientation in the hiring process.   In addition, there are specific protections in our collective bargaining agreement with the players that prohibit discrimination against any player, including on the basis of sexual orientation,” Mike Garafolo of USA Today quoted a NFL official as saying in February.  “Any team or employee that inquires about impermissible subjects or makes an employment decision based on such factors is subject to league discipline.”

So why did Sam go public, and why did the media think it was newsworthy?

Sam said he told coaches at the Senior Bowl all-star game for NFL that he was gay.  “Coaches just wanted to know a little about ourselves, our majors, where we’re from, and something that no one knows about you,” Sam said. “And I used that opportunity just to tell them that I was gay. And their reaction was like, ‘Michael Sam finally told us.'”

So why did Sam tell the coaches, and why did he go public?  Who knows — maybe he didn’t know teams weren’t supposed to factor that into their decisions.  Or maybe he thought that by disclosing it he would gain a leg up in the process, with teams being afraid of being painted as “anti-gay.”  Or maybe he was just being a bit exhibitionist.

Sam himself said he wanted “to own my own story” and was afraid someone else would disclose his sexual activity.

Regardless, the bigger question is why did the media think it was newsworthy.

Teresa Tomeo, the Catholic radio talkshow host, discussed this with Matt Philbin, of the Culture & Media Institute.  We’d like to see Tomeo get someone from ESPN, NBC News or The New York Times to explain why the Sam story was newsworthy — and whether, if some athlete “came out” as someone who was straight or was Catholic or converting to Catholicism, would that story get the same play.


About Joel Whitaker

Joel Whitaker is a long-time professional journalist (Tampa Bay Times, Wall Street Journal, Philadelphia Bulletin, Institutional Investor, executive newsletters) and Catholic convert. He is the RCIA coordinator for his parish.
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