Michael Sam will be a role model

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Michael Sam is going to be just fine, and so will the NFL team lucky enough to draft the Missouri pass-rusher.

Sam is riding a wave, not creating one. An overwhelming influx of cash stripped American sports and its superstars of their ability to be revolutionary catalysts for progressive change. The sports world is no longer a leader in the battle for social justice. It's a follower. Sports are playing catch-up to the rest of American society.

Our debate regarding homosexuality and tolerance has been settled. We're a nation that is now firmly and permanently pro-gay marriage. Gay people hold prominent positions of power and respect throughout our society. We have high-profile gay elected politicians. Ellen DeGeneres is beloved on TV. Gay characters have prominent roles on our most popular TV shows. Don Lemon reports the news for CNN. Robin Roberts wakes us in the morning on ABC.

Gay non-athletes paved the road to liberation and freedom that Sam will now travel.

I'm not writing this to diminish Sam, the difficulty of his challenge or its importance. I'm writing it to dampen the hysteria. I'm writing it because Sam's announcement elevated my perspective on this issue, heightened my awareness of sports' role in our modern society.

Jackie Robinson shook America a decade before Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. Openly gay politicians Harvey Milk, Elaine Noble and Barney Frank beat Sam to our national consciousness by more than four decades.

The sports world no longer promotes change; it reflects it.

With Sam out of the closet to his teammates, coaching staff and a significant percentage of the student body that cared to notice, the University of Missouri football team put together one of the best seasons in school history. The Tigers won 11 regular-season games, played in the SEC championship and finished the season ranked fifth in the country.

Their season was simply confirmation of what we already knew: Working with gay people does not interfere with success. Sam's individual success -- he was the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year in college football's best conference -- confirmed a bit of common sense. Allowing a person to live an un-closeted life frees him to reach his full potential.

Michael Sam isn't controversial, and neither is his announcement. Most of us have been working with and for openly gay people for a long time. Sam's NFL teammates will handle his sexuality in much the same fashion as his Missouri teammates. Oh, some NFL player is likely to tweet something stupid and insensitive. A religious hypocrite or two might go full Duck Dynasty and claim America was better off when gay men were repressed and concealed.

That's 'Merica. You can't have the "free" without the "dumb." It's called "freedumb."

If all goes well at the combine, I expect Michael Sam to get drafted in the third or fourth round. Most NFL executives are smart enough to realize the Sam-media circus will subside quickly. He's not Tim Tebow, a wildly popular college quarterback who tapped into America's religious zealotry. Sam isn't even Johnny Manziel, a wildly popular college quarterback who tapped into America's secular, reality-TV zealotry. Sam is Manti Te'o, a really good college player with an interesting story.

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