Americans say they're ready for openly gay players, according to a HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted after Michael Sam became the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL team. But the survey also found lingering discomfort with gay athletes publicly celebrating in a way that straight athletes routinely do.
According to the new poll, 60 percent of Americans said they would approve of their favorite sports team signing an openly gay player, while 20 percent said they would disapprove. Among NFL fans in particular, 65 percent said they would approve and 21 percent said they would disapprove.
The year has seen breakthroughs in two major American sports leagues, with Sam being drafted by the St. Louis Rams last Saturday and Jason Collins becoming the first openly gay NBA player when he signed with the Brooklyn Nets in February.
But although most Americans approve of gay players in theory, many are less comfortable with the reality. Male athletes kissing their wives or girlfriends is routine territory for networks covering victory and other sporting celebrations, but coverage of Sam's kissing his boyfriend after he was drafted has generated controversy. Forty-seven percent in the new poll said it was "inappropriate" for networks to show the kiss, while only 36 percent said it was "appropriate." Seventeen percent said they weren't sure.
The survey likewise found a major generational divide. Americans under age 30 had no problem with coverage of the kiss, by a 55 percent to 29 percent margin. Those between ages 30 and 44 were evenly divided: 40 percent said it was appropriate; 39 percent said it was inappropriate. And a majority of older Americans said it was inappropriate, including 52 percent of those between ages 45 and 64, and 69 percent of those 65 and older.
The kiss between Sam and his boyfriend may have been particularly heartfelt because they had to wait for it: He was the 249th pick in the seventh round of the draft. But those who said they follow the sport were more likely than not to say that Sam got a fair shake. Thirty-four percent of NFL fans said he was drafted at about the right time based on talent alone. Nineteen percent said he was drafted later than he should have been. Only 9 percent said he was drafted earlier than he should have been, while 38 percent said they didn't know enough to judge.
However, the SEC is one of the, if not the best, conferences in college football. Since the SEC began giving the Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2003, all winners but Chad Lavalais (the first SEC Defensive Player of the Year and also two years older than most NFL draftees), DeMeco Ryans (a second round draft pick), and Michael Sam (a seventh round draft pick) have all been first round draft picks, including Sam's co-Defensive Player of the Year for the SEC C. J. Mosley. Sam should have been a first round draft pick, yet he was one of the last players drafted, and it's not because he got a "fair shake" but because he was gay.
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning sounded off on Michael Sam's headline-making news as part of an interview with HuffPost Live this week. As to how his Giants teammates would've reacted if Sam had been drafted by that team, Manning said, "We have a great locker room, and I think the most important thing ... you're drafted a football player. That's all we care about in the locker room."
Noting that "what you do outside in your personal life is up to you," Manning added, "I was excited for [Sam]. This is a gentleman who's been through a lot ... I'm wishing Michael all the best in having a successful career."
Way to go, Eli, you always show more class than your brother Peyton. I think the Rams will be lucky to have Sam as a player as any team would be and should have realized. They certainly need some good players at the Rams.