Brennan: Michael Sam most important football player in U.S.

Rams seventh-round draft pick Michael Sam

Two days ago, Michael Sam was the eighth-to-last man selected in the NFL draft.

Today, he is the most important football player in the nation.

Sam, the first openly gay man to be drafted by an NFL team, has drawn us into conversations that we as a culture were going to get to, sooner or later.

Turns out it’s sooner.

Whether it’s “The Kiss,” or the impact he is going to have on Missouri’s anti-gay employment law as a member of the St. Louis Rams, or how good he already is for business in the NFL, Sam has made a stunning debut in the most popular sports league in the country.

The hottest selling rookie jersey in the NFL is Johnny Manziel’s. The second best-selling is Sam’s. It turns out NFL fans can’t wait to buy — and presumably wear — the jersey of a gay man. Who would have predicted that?

If drafting Sam is as good for the bottom line as it appears to be for the Rams, it’s also likely to become a significant decision politically in the state.

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Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) Said it best when she endorsed this message on Twitter: “Michael Sam could still be fired for just being gay according to MO law. Let’s fix that in Jeff City,” referring to the state capital of Jefferson City.

Under current Missouri law, an individual can be refused employment because of his or her sexual orientation, Dara Strickland, board president of the LGBT Community Center of Metropolitan St. Louis, said on local television station KSDK.

A bill before the Missouri legislature would protect Sam and others in the LGBT community from discrimination in the workplace.

It’s not much of a reach to say Sam has just become the best thing to ever happen to that piece of legislation.

So there’s good news about the impact Sam is already having in the NFL and in Missouri. There’s also not-so-good news.

Why are some people still so shocked that Sam kissed his boyfriend after being selected in the draft’s seventh and final round Saturday night?

Are they embarrassed? Are they wishing they lived in an alternate universe, or a different century, or perhaps in a nation ruled by Vladimir Putin? Have they paid absolutely no attention to what is happening in the United States, with 18 states and the District of Columbia — closing in on 40% of the nation — having legalized same-sex marriage?

You see the backlash on the news. You hear it on sports talk radio. You read it on Twitter.

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Miami Dolphins defensive back Don Jones: “OMG” and “Horrible.” (Isn’t it good to see how much kinder and gentler the Dolphins are after last year’s bullying and hazing fiasco?).

Former Ole Miss basketball player Marshall Henderson: “Boycotting sportscenter til this michael sam nasty —- is off…My brothers are 7 and 11 and saw that!!! #SICKENING”.

Jones was fined, suspended and told to go to sensitivity training. As for Henderson, the Ole Miss athletic director said he was “extremely disappointed,” then Henderson claimed his tweet was part of a friend’s psychological study. Apparently “the dog ate my homework” excuse was taken.

Are some people — especially young athletic men who presumably grew up with gay classmates, if they gave that the slightest bit of thought — really that surprised that a gay man would kiss his boyfriend to celebrate one of the happiest moments of his life?

Or, are they more shocked by where they saw this kiss, either live or on tape? It was ESPN. Was the sports network’s key demographic just not prepared for this jolt of reality? ESPN has shown a man-to-man kiss before, but that was just on the cheek: Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson during the 1988 NBA Finals.

This one was for real, and the young men living in our macho sports culture who watch ESPN day and night might as well get used to it. It could have been the first time they’ve seen two men kissing on a sports network. It likely won’t be the last.

Follow national sports columnist Christine Brennan on Twitter at @cbrennansports.

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