Welcome to the story of 2014.
Michael Sam, former Missouri defensive end, has admitted that he is black.
Already, the tremors of acceptance are rattling the cages of NFL executives who, in order to protect the professionalism of others and for no other reason whatsoever, anonymously went on record with Sports Illustrated just to hammer home some hard to swallow truths.
"I don't think football is ready for [an openly [black] player] just yet," said an NFL player personnel assistant. "In the coming decade or two, it's going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it's still a [not-black] man's-man game. To call somebody a [[racial] slur] is still so commonplace. It'd chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room."
"There are guys in locker rooms that maturity-wise cannot handle it or deal with the thought of that," the assistant coach said. "There's nothing more sensitive than the heartbeat of the locker room. If you knowingly bring someone in there with that [skin color], how are the other guys going to deal with it? It's going to be a big distraction. That's the reality. It shouldn't be, but it will be."
Chemical balance is the bedrock of successful football teams. We all know this. And of course an NFL team's heartbeat sensitive. Sensitivity is the watchword when it comes to the NFL. Common knowledge, I know, but worth repeating.
Just think about after practice when everyone heads to the locker room. Who's going to be the first one to jump in the shower knowing the Sam, now an openly black man, could be heading that way? Talk about uncomfortable. Don't misunderstand; I'm not judging. I'm just acknowledging that there are players who will. That's just life in 2014 America, folks.
Now some will point to his time at Missouri and note that he revealed his race to his teammates before the 2013 season, a season in which the Tigers went 12-2, played for an SEC Championship and were in the running for a national championship berth late into the season as Sam was named the co-defensive player of the year in the SEC. I would note however that this isn't college football. This is the NFL where the all-seeing eye (and I'm not talking about CBS...well maybe I am) can deliver media hordes on a moments' notice. Stemming the onslaught of the JournoArmy would take crafted effort.
The approach to breaking the story had to be carefully cultivated and planted across the media landscape to ensure the world understood the importance of this moment for the NFL and for America.
"We've had a lot of people tell us not to do this," Barkett said. "Friends, prominent business people. But it's something Cameron and I were asked to help with. And to say no to someone regardless of what the situation is, that's not in our personal beliefs. Mike entrusted us with this, and we want to make sure it's done right for Mike and the [black] community as a whole."
Credit to the handlers on this one. I haven't ever heard an NFL player, or future one at that, publicly verify their race. It takes guts to be the person to make that leap, and a share of those guts to help him get over the line.
So here we are just days from the opening of the NFL Combine. And much like Manti Te'o a year ago, this will be the biggest story of them all and follow into the season and on and on, for ever and ever. The mediastorm is already a-brewin'.
...by coming out, Sam turned a very bright spotlight on himself.
And the reality is teams would rather the bright lights shine on their superstars on game day. Any club drafting Sam would add distractions for players, and teams normally work to avoid any distraction.
As the media glare intensifies at the Scouting Combine and the weeks leading up to the draft, Sam will be viewed as more and more of a distraction. That fact -- not Sam's [blackness] -- is what will cause him to slip into the late rounds or perhaps even entirely out of the draft.
And this is where we find ourselves. Sure, in many of our hearts, we want to believe that a black man can play football in the NFL and not be judged by anything other than the quality of his football play. But we shouldn't let our hopes cloud our ability to be realists about this.
It's not about Sam. It's about us.
It's about those of us who just want to live our lives without having another story about who's come out as being black shoved in our faces. We get it. You're black. It's not like we cared, but whatever. Just keep your blackness out of my peripheral content vision and we're good.
It's about those of us who disagree with blackness in the first place. If someone chooses to be black, that's their choice. They have to live with the consequences of being black if they want to follow that path. Me? I choose to be not-black. Just because the entire country makes it easier in every single aspect, save for entertainment-driven objectification, to be not-black doesn't mean we can't hold it against those who choose to be black. It is their decision after all.
It's about those of us who, on some level, are confused that the image we hold in our mind's eye of traditional norms of masculinity and power are threatened by the idea that this 6'2", 250-pound maelstrom of tenacity and brawn could be black. We had a pre-defined notion of blackness that made it comfortable for those of us who aren't black because it gave us a pedestal to be able to look downward at all times. This changes the elevation of the pedestal, and Sam looks a lot bigger when we're on the same footing.
In the end, it's about all of us who understand that when you put a connected group of people under pressure, the best groups overcome the dissimilarities and comprehensive weaknesses to succeed. And success is something we can understand for most types of men.
We can understand it because we've seen it so often, and historical football champions make it more digestible. We know what NFL players are in our minds.
Some big, some small. Some fast, some powerful. Some straight, some gay.
But admitting you're black?!
That's not something we were ready to ask you to do for us.