67 years ago Jackie Robinson became the first black player in American sports history to integrate with people of a different ethnicity. Here in 2014, the first openly gay player in the NFL has become the center of attention. Circumstances were far different back in Robinson's day, but the idea is the almost identical. Is it fair to mention the two in the same sentence?
Make no mistake: Robinson will always be the most influential player in sports history for his enormous impact on American society and culture. In fact, no one has ever come close to duplicating no. 42's impact...until now.
So Michael Sam is not joining a league at a time during which it is acceptable to harass, taunt, even threaten societally-shunned individuals. Still though, Sam has enough drama attached to him that gives him much less respect than other NFL players.
While Robinson had to deal with persistent disrespect (to say the least) both on and off the field, Sam is receiving the same treatment at a lesser degree. Rather than shouting and threatening the man, fans have resorted to a more nonverbal approach of discrimination.
It may be less vulgar, but it is still discrimination that the Missouri linebacker will certainly have to deal with. Some believe the value of Sam dropped in the draft due to his sexuality, but that is speculation with no tangible evidence.
Both standout players have or had proven their talents at previous levels, but transition into the big leagues was and is the key here. If Sam can somehow establish himself as one of the best players, he will have a chance to break down the intangible barrier of sexual orientation.
Sam is the greater longshot here, but all he wants is a fair chance and he should have that now. If the spotlight linebacker can have a special rookie year, then maybe we will be able to compare him to Jackie Robinson with even more justification and fairness.