Column: Will Michael Sam be able to endure the media scrutiny?

My hope is one day we get to a point where the story of Missouri football star Michael Sam is centered around immense success at the collegiate level after coming from a tragic background.

But, today is not that day.

Sam has quite the extraordinary life plot. He has siblings who have died, are in jail or are missing. But the National Football League has many rags-to-riches success stories about people growing up in horrific environments.

Sam has overcome so many obstacles that I have trouble even thinking about them. Unfortunately, his NFL journey will remain difficult for vastly different reasons.

It almost goes without saying that Sam demonstrated outstanding courage to come out of the closet as a gay football player in America.

As evident by his announcement itself, Sam's moral character is sufficient to be a role model to many, but to make the larger step to a bigger audience, he needs relative success in the NFL.

If other players see him succumb to pressures of being an openly gay athlete and not succeed at the professional level, they might not want to join him.

If Sam is a flop, it is much more likely that the explanation has everything to do with his ability to play football and nothing to do with his sexuality.

However, questions might remain. Was the media scrutiny too much for him to handle? It takes a special person with a superb support system to handle the media craze that Sam will endure.

So far, Sam and his team have answered the questions on the field.

We live in a progressive time with regard to sexual differences, and while there will always be those who disapprove, Sam's locker room at Missouri—which he hails as immensely supportive—was able to handle his open sexuality.

The Missouri Tigers had a spectacular season (7-1 SEC, 12-2 overall), culminating in a Cotton Bowl victory over Oklahoma State.

Would coming out to his team affect Sam's play on the field? A South Eastern Conference Co-Defensive Player of the Year award is all the answer we need.

The difference now becomes the media exposure at the next level.

Assuming he gets drafted, Sam will be the first active openly gay player in the NFL, and the cameras will always be around him.

Unfortunately in the media world we live in—ESPN has gotten away with several hours of Tim Tebow coverage per day—Sam will be scrutinized and talked about down to the finest detail.

Sam completed the first step of the process by proving that he and his team can be successful, but the NFL and the media circus surrounding it is a different monster.

If Sam is a successful NFL player, other players will see with their own eyes a clear set of footprints to follow. If others see him not perform as well, they might ask themselves if the media pressure can threaten their performance on the field, which is in fact their profession.

Making the announcement he did, Sam knows what he is getting into. I have faith in his ability to find support systems when in need and that his career as a football player will be determined by relevant factors, but many others might extrapolate his play on the field to his choices off it.

Anxiety might set in to an already stressful situation, and those who have been silent may choose to remain as such.

Do you think Michael Sam will be a successful NFL player? How will his influence be looked at if his playing career is not as successful? Let Jonah know what you think by emailing jonah.beleckis@dailycardinal.com.

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