Former NBA forward John Amaechi feels that now is the chance for the NFL to make a serious change from being “notoriously behind” when it comes to homosexuality in the sport after Missouri Tigers’ All-American defensive lineman Michael Sam announced via ESPN and the New York Times on Sunday that he was gay.
“The NFL has been notoriously behind so this is an opportunity for them,” said Amaechi, exclusively to UKAmericanSportsFans.com, as the prospect of the first openly gay American football player in the NFL last night took a major leap forward with Sam’s news.
However, with Sam roundly being touted as a tail-end fourth round draft pick, it could still be a waiting game as to whether or not such a move materialises.
In the last 24 hours, in looking over Sam’s draft stock, SI.com reported that an NFL player personnel assistant does not “think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet.”
Amaechi, who played for the Utah Jazz and Orlando Magic during his time in the NBA and was the first former player to come out publicly in 2007, also feels that time will tell, but that the powers that be are the ones that could really make the difference: “The sad part of it is that now we just have to watch and see what happens. I think this young man is particular brave, and this is one of those times where that word is appropriate, but we have to see how the NFL itself is going to respond.”
“If people are really serious about winning, then they’ll do whatever it takes to make sure their team contains the very best players. And I think that anything less than that is not just a signal of an old-fashioned perspective; it’s a signal that you’re not really serious about it,” the former England international went on to say.
Yesterday’s news will have sent reverberations throughout the US, but Amaechi believes that the NFL is where, if anywhere, the biggest challenge will come from in relation to the acceptance of gay sportspeople: “I think it’s fair to say, for America, this is the sport where resistance is greatest. David Stern [former NBA commissioner], the players, the NBA as a whole, have made huge progress. NHL – huge progress, even baseball has made progress! That is not on the basis of being nice; they just want to have great teams with the best possible players.”
With the recent examples of sportspeople around the world coming out, including NBA free agent Jason Collins, MLS’ Robbie Rogers (who became the first openly gay man to play in a North American professional sports league last year) and British diver Tom Daley, who revealed he was currently in a relationship with a man, Amaechi feels the bone of contention now lies firmly with those in charge of the sports.
“You have to be clear; this is not a player-centric issue. There are some idiot fans out there, there are still a few idiot players for sure, I’ve seen their tweets and received some of their tweets already today and yesterday. But this is really an issue of the owners changing the culture of the sport, and not for the betterment of gay people but so that they’re in a position to hire the very best person based on talent.”