I’ve cheered for the St. Louis Rams since I was just big enough to wear the junior size windbreaker, with the old St. Louis Rams colors of bright yellow and royal blue, that still hangs in a closet. My earliest memory of caring about football is shouting at Kurt Warner during the 1999 Super Bowl against the Titans. I’m not from St. Louis, and none of my family is either. I just adopted them. Fifteen years, and way too much memorabila later, I still bleed gold and blue.
Years of media irrelevance have been jarringly put to a halt, as of last Saturday afternoon. You see, in the final round of the 2014 NFL draft, the Rams selected Michael Sam. Sam is a defensive end from the University of Missouri. He’s a hometown kid who enjoyed a phenomenal career, capped off by being named the Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Though his athletic capabilities at the elite level of play are yet to be seen, Sam has already enjoyed a football career full of success and promise.
But that is not why Sam’s selection has completely dominated nationwide sports coverage for two days. The explanation for that is that Sam came out as gay in February. His selection by the Rams makes him the first openly gay athlete to actively play in the NFL. Sam’s drafting has been called “historic,” compared to Jackie Robinson’s breaking of baseball’s color barrier in 1947, and has been celebrated as a moment of triumph and diversity for American sports. In the hours after Sam was drafted, reports surfaced that the Rams had been approached by almost 40 international news outlets to interview him. Michael Sam’s new career as a St. Louis Ram is a national event.
For me, experiencing the maelstrom of media coverage on my favorite team has been an unusual, unexpected, and even unnerving event. Don’t get me wrong: There is still truth that “any coverage is good coverage,” and the Rams are currently battling to remain in St. Louis. A heightened national profile might be of great use right now.
But I am uneasy. As an evangelical Christian who holds to an orthodox, biblical and Christocentric view of sexuality, I am unable to fully join in the celebration. I agree that this is a historic moment, but I don’t see it as good history. I don’t agree with the comparison between Sam and Jackie Robinson, and I would call Sam’s sexual identity anything but a triumph. I believe that before Michael Sam is gay, straight, a defensive end of even a black American man, he is the image of the Almighty God. I believe Michael Sam was created special and unique, with gifts and talents and abilities, in order to know and enjoy and glorify his Maker. I believe that Sam, like Samuel James, is a sinner in need of God to come to him and bring redemption and resurrection. And I take Jesus Christ at His word when he says that he who created mankind created both male and female, in a way that mirrors the deepest mysteries of God’s love for sinners.
Sam has been articulate in his insistence that I and everyone else judge him based on his performance on the field. You know what? I absolutely agree. I will have zero hesitation in cheering for Sam on Sundays. When he sacks Colin Kaepernick, you better believe I will pump my fist in Sam’s honor. When he forces a Marshawn Lynch fumble, I will probably say “Mike Sam is a BEAST.” Michael Sam, defensive end for the St. Louis Rams, is a person whose personal and career success is something I will sincerely hope for.
But Michael, you aren’t just a football player. Was it for your big time defensive plays that Rams General Manager Les Snead said he could feel “a pivot in history” when you were selected? Was it for your style of play that Matthew O’Brien said you were challenging “mythologized, very martial notions of masculinity”? The truth is that Michael Sam’s sexual orientation is an immovable part of his personal narrative. And to that end, I believe that the Bible has something to say to Michael Sam.
Am I less of a human being because of what I believe about homosexuality? Some people definitely think so. But to that end, I think I can learn something from Michael Sam. Sam has demonstrated considerable courage in coming out. I honestly believe that the NFL is one of the last bastions of billion dollar industry in which homosexuality could conceivably prove detrimental to career. Sam has been brave, unapologetic, resolute and committed to his goals in life. That is something to be commended by everyone. The question is, if I see the tide of popular opinion turning against my innermost convictions, and I jettison my beliefs in order to be liked or given a microphone, where is the courage in that?
I do not hate Michael Sam. I admire his talents and welcome him to the St. Louis Rams. I pray that perhaps one day I can welcome him to the family of Christ, with all the freedom and abundance in life that it affords, far above the glory of the Super Bowl or the Hall of Fame. I hope, if Sam were to ever read this post, that he would hear not the self righteous condemnation of a “holier than thou” sports fan, but a fellow traveler on life’s road, hoping to point to where life-satisfying water can be found.