We’re all aware that Michael Sam just made history as the NFL‘s first openly gay player.
Beyond the shiny headlines, our own Shawn Paul Wood explained this morning that, while Sam’s signing is unquestionably a significant moment for the league and for pro sports in general, he’s really just a guy who plays great defense…and happens to be gay. Which is how it should be.
Since Fifteen Minutes PR CEO Howard Bragman first organized Sam’s announcement in February, we’ve heard many (anonymous) insiders speculate as to whether owners would take a risk on him. But for the Rams, the question seems to have been “what risk?”
Now we have our answer to a more interesting query: how will the corporate world and the league itself react?
First, advertisers saw Sam’s potential before he was a sure thing: VISA ran an ad starring Sam on the first day of the draft when owners still debated whether anyone would sign him.
We might say his compelling backstory led to the spokesman deal, but the campaign itself sticks to the “judge me for how I play, not who I am” theme:
In short, the NFL and its corporate sponsors approve. Now, the league has responded to one player who chose to make his disapproval public…by fining and suspending him.
To recap: Dolphins safety Don Jones let his 5,000+ Twitter followers know that his feelings on the issue of Sam and his boyfriend bore a striking similarity to those of a 10-year-old boy forced to touch a slimy girl:
While we can’t say that the team’s decision to fine Jones and suspend him “until he completes an educational training” had anything to do with his subsequent apology, we see this move as a confirmation of the fact that the NFL has sensed a change in the air.
It’s true that–as ThinkProgress and other blogs like ours note–the Dolphins have already suffered some damaging publicity over the behavior of football’s own Nelson Muntz (who recently hired his own firm).
We’d like to see the move as part of larger trend, though: the NFL, like so many other brands in pretty much every industry, has realized that gay people don’t just help support its business–they also participate.
So while plenty of players and professional idiots will continue to talk about how Jones’ supposedly had his First Amendment rights compromised by not being able to tweet “eww, gross”, the Dolphins and–we think–the league at large have realized that this kind of thing is no longer good for business.
Just like the NBA, pro football realizes that its audience is growing more diverse in every way. So while the people who watch and even play pro football may continue to act like boors on occasion, its organizers no longer want to hear it.
And this is a good thing.
[Still via The New York Times]