Just as when first-ever openly gay NFL player Michael Sam was dropped from the St. Louis Rams in August, today's announcement that he's been cut from the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad is likely to inspire two responses. First: This cut is not about sexuality, this is about the game of football. Second: This cut is absolutely about sexuality. At this point, though, both views seem too simplistic.
Sam has been the victim of several close calls all season long. He was a seventh-round draft pick for the Rams, and as a defensive end, he had to fight for a permanent spot on the team against several others in that same position. He eventually lost out, didn't get picked up on waivers, and was picked up for the Cowboys' practice squad shortly after.
Now, Sam has been cut to make way for linebacker Troy Davis on the practice squad. That may make perfect sense for the team. That doesn’t mean that people who had emotionally invested in Sam because of what he stood for aren’t entitled to disappointment—no matter what people who understand the decision logically might say. In other words: Calling the Cowboys' or the Rams' decision to cut Sam homophobic might be an overreach. But it's an understandable overreach.
Sam cried on national television when he got the call from the Rams. He kissed his boyfriend. They cried together. He was surrounded by supportive family. It was an image that felt glorious not just because of how happy people were for Sam, but for all that he represented. That kiss was a personal moment. It was a football moment. It was also history. And it's easy to get caught up in history.
Even after Robbie Rogers strode onto the field as a member of the L.A. Galaxy, and Jason Collins found a temporary home with the Nets, Sam's story still was groundbreaking. The NFL is a different league from the rest, if you'll pardon the pun. It is the pinnacle of macho in American culture. It is buffalo wings and Bud Light and big corporate sponsors. It is burly men hitting each other as millions watch and cheer. An openly gay player in the NFL was thought impossible not too long ago. And yet here it was, all over ESPN. And now here it isn't.
For those who are disappointed, the hardest part is often not knowing how to respond to the news. Why can't it just be about homophobia? Why can't there be some easily identified evil here, something that we can make a hashtag campaign about? What is there to change when the answer isn't "no," but "not now"? After all, "now" fits the narrative better. "Now" fits into the moment of acceptance the nation is experiencing as more and more states establish marriage equality. If only Michael Sam was the right fit for the Rams, or for the Cowboys, or for another team. It could have been now, those who are disappointed will sigh. It should have been now.
That's why this can't just be chalked up to "it was the best thing for the team" for many observers. Humans don't work that way. Sam is a lovable hero, and it was easy to cheer him on. The hardest thing to accept isn't that Sam isn't going to be on the national field at some point. Even if it's not him, there will be an openly gay NFL player, and that moment is coming very soon.
But that moment is not now. And it’s okay to be disappointed about that.