The Herald Bulletin
---- — The annual NFL Scouting Combine arrives in Indianapolis this weekend, and the most anticipated moment will come Saturday when Missouri linebacker Michael Sam takes a stage in the media room.
Last week, Sam became the first active football player to openly acknowledge he is gay. The announcement came in a media firestorm that included interviews on ESPN and in the New York Times and a cover story for Sports Illustrated.
And it's only just begun.
In Indianapolis, Sam will face the same media throng that surrounded Notre Dame's Manti Te'o a year ago and asked such enlightened questions as, "Are you dating anyone in real life now?"
Sam's sexuality, of course, is a much larger topic of debate with far more reach than the fake girlfriend saga that dominated the news last February. Te'o eventually was drafted in the second round by the San Diego Chargers — by former Indianapolis Colts scout Tom Telesco — and his rookie season went by without incident on or off the field.
All eyes will be watching to see if the same can be said for Sam.
On Saturday, University of Missouri students formed a "Wall of Love" to support Sam and thwart a protest by the Westboro Baptist Church while the school's football team was celebrated for its Cotton Bowl win against Oklahoma State.
Sam was named co-defensive player of the year in the nation's toughest college football conference this fall, and his announcement was met by waves of support at his alma mater. Tigers head coach Gary Pinkel said the linebacker revealed his sexuality to teammates during a dinner prior to the season, and none of the players shared Sam's secret before he was ready to go public.
There's no reason Sam shouldn't find similar support in the NFL.
Despite the common view of pro football locker rooms as hives of boorish behavior — and the recent league-funded report from Miami that highlighted the extreme worsts of that stereotype — sports, in general, long have been a more accepting arena than society as a whole.
As long as Sam can get to quarterbacks and disrupt pro offenses as well as he did in college, acceptance will follow. If only things were so simple off the field.
If the Colts pick Sam in May's draft, will he feel comfortable living in a city where state senator Mike Delph loudly protested his way of life Monday? Would he be at home in Arizona, Louisiana or Texas, states with laws comparable to the anti-gay Russian legislation so widely protested during these Olympics?
It's easy to point the finger at the NFL and pretend the locker room is the only place Sam will be challenged in the coming months and years. But are we ready to apply the same test to ourselves?
As Sam's NFL journey begins this week in Indy, perhaps we all can learn something from the actions of college students in Missouri.