The term homosexuality, in all of its various definitions, is not clearly understood. The word is still in its infancy, as our society hasn’t seemed to come to terms with what it means and what its implications are.

The term is looked down upon, because many people cannot understand why one person would have romantic or sexual feelings for someone of the same gender. Being gay, it seems, is a foreign concept to many.

Being gay is not a disease. It’s not a criminal act to love someone of the same sex. In the world of athletics, players seem to turn the other way when being gay is discussed.

If an openly gay man enters an NFL locker room, many players won’t give him the respect he deserves. Take San Francisco 49ers running back Garrison Hearst for instance.

According to The Fresno Bee, Hearst referred to former NFL defensive tackle Esera Tuaolo as a “punk” for coming out of the closet, and said that he — while using a derogatory term — wouldn’t be wanted in the locker room. It’s hard to believe people can be this insensitive.

Feb. 9, 2014 will stand out in history. In an interview with “Outside the Lines,” NFL prospect Michael Sam, a defensive end from the University of Missouri, announced his sexual orientation.

After hearing that Sam was gay, many media outlets — in all of their incessant coverage — regarded Sam as a distraction. Analysts have assumed teams won’t want him because of that.

He’s not a criminal. He hasn’t done anything wrong. Being gay isn’t illegal. The NFL is willing to accept players who commit crimes, like killing dogs — Michael Vick — or threatening a security guard’s life — Adam Jones. I don’t understand why NFL teams continue to accept criminals, but snub gay players. It doesn’t make any sense. Not one bit.

In a league where masculinity is an overarching theme, there seems to be no room for openly gay NFL players. The NFL is the biggest, baddest sports league worldwide. There’s an aroma in the NFL that reeks of homophobia.

Sam is here to change that odor. If he succeeded in the Southeastern Conference, widely regarded as the toughest college football conference nationwide, then Sam deserves a chance to play in the NFL. After all, Sam didn’t earn first team All-American honors this past season for nothing.

Sam will be met with both hostility and acceptance once he enters the NFL. According to a survey conducted by ESPN, 32 out of 51 anonymous NFL players said they had teammates or coaches use homophobic slurs last season.  Sam came from a tough family background and knows all too well about the fragility of life. Sam shouldn’t be discouraged about these statistics.  He knows all too well about the fragility of life and has faced plenty of adversity throughout his life.

One of his sisters drowned in a lake at only two years old. Sam witnessed one of his brothers being shot to death. Another brother vanished 15 years ago and has not been found since. On top of all that, Sam has two older brothers who have both been in and out of jail.

Sam has had a rough upbringing, no doubt about it. While he is undersized for the defensive end position, he has shown a positive work ethic that any NFL team would appreciate.

If anyone can succeed in the NFL as an openly gay player, it’s Michael Sam. The NFL needs to learn what being gay is all about. Now’s a great time to start learning.

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