Michael Sam made NFL history this weekend, but not everyone was ready to accept gay pride in professional sports.
Camera crews captured a visibly emotional Sam as he broke down in tears when he found out he was selected as the 249th draft pick by the St. Louis Rams, making the defensive end the first openly gay player drafted in the NFL. After hearing the news in a phone call that changed his life, Sam hung up, turned to his boyfriend, and kissed him.
The footage of the kiss, which aired on ESPN, was met with swift negativity on social media.“I”m sorry, but that Michael Sam is no bueno for doing that on national tv,” former NFL player Derrick Ward tweeted.
“I’m fine with it being a new day in age but for him to do that on […] national tv is disgusting. Gay or not,” Ward added with a follow-up tweet.
Miami Dolphins safety Don Jones was reprimanded for tweeting “OMG” and “Horrible” after Sam was drafted by the Rams. The tweets were later deleted. Jones was fined and banned from team activities until he finishes educational training.
“We were disappointed to read Don’s tweets during the NFL Draft,” Coach Joe Philbin said in a statement. “They were inappropriate and unacceptable, and we regret the negative impact these comments had on such an important weekend for the NFL.”
Jones later apologized to Sam, his teammates, coaches and fans for his “inappropriate comments.”
“I take full responsibility for them and I regret that these tweets took away from his draft moment,” Jones said of Sam. “I remember last year when I was drafted in the seventh round and all of the emotions and happiness I felt when I received the call that gave me an opportunity to play for an NFL team and I wish him all the best in his NFL career.”
But not all were turned off by Jones’ reaction. Conservative pundits questioned whether the disciplinary action against Jones for his negative comments would “offend” his free speech. Billionaire Donald Trump suggested that Jones’ punishment means “we’ve become so politically correct in this country that the country is going to hell.”
Meanwhile other critics, including Florida State University linebacker DeMarcus Walker, contrasted the positive reaction to Sam’s coming out to the negative attention NFL player Tim Tebow received for being open about his faith.
“Y’all praise Michael Sam for being gay but y’all mocked Tim Tebow for being a Christian. Smh #Society,” Walker tweeted Saturday.
Sam, a former Mizzou defensive end, said he wanted to “own [his] truth” earlier this year when he publicly came out as gay, just three months ahead of the NFL draft.
“I’m Michael Sam, I’m a football player, and I’m gay,” Sam told The New York Times. “Is this a huge deal? I understand it is. But my purpose and focus right now is playing football.”
His initial coming out, and his subsequent draft pick, triggered an outpouring of support from fans and admirers eager to uproot the stigma of gay rights grounded in professional sports.
“The president congratulates Michael Sam, the Rams and the NFL for taking an important step forward today in our Nation’s journey,” the White House said in a statement. “From the playing field to the corporate boardroom, LGBT Americans prove every day that you should be judged by what you do and not who you are.”
Orders for Sam’s St. Louis Rams jersey sailed through the roof this weekend, outselling those for No. 1 overall draft pick, Jadeveon Clowney. According to Outsports, in the initial 48 hours after Sam made the team, sales for his jersey were just second to Heisman Trophy-winner Johnny Manziel.