Prior to his revelation in an interview with ESPN’s "Outside the Lines", the public primarily branded Michael Sam as an explosive and pugnacious defensive lineman from the University of Missouri. At 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds, he led the SEC with 11.5 sacks, and won the title as the conference’s defensive player of the year (2013). Today he is once more creating headlines and generating supreme thrill for the sport, albeit this time, it is off the field. In an act that is simultaneously unprecedented, valiant, and monumental, Sam has declared that he is gay. Regardless of his achievements in college, to his performance at the NFL Combine, and the results at the NFL Draft in May, Sam has yet again won another title as the most intriguing prospect in the NFL.From a business standpoint, marketing strategists and corporate consultants support Sam’s disclosure regarding his sexual orientation. Last year, the adult LGBTQ population in the United States had the buying power of approximately $830 billion, therefore, signing him would allow companies to attempt to tread this market and capture its buying power. As a result, Sam’s confession is worth millions of dollars in endorsements and public speaking engagements.
Closet Full of Secrets, Pockets Full of Dough
Sam’s courage and strength will be remembered for years to come. Today, his story may seem vanguard and progressive, but a few years from now, he may very well be like the Jackie Robinson of baseball or the Patrick Ewing of basketball. Harold Lewis, a long-time sports agent from St. Louis, called Sam a marketing dream. "He is gonna be on every talk show from David Letterman to Jimmy Fallon, you name it," Lewis said. "There's gonna be a movie made about him, and about what he stood up for.” Experts agree that the smart approach, from a marketing and public relations angle, is to let Sam’s skills on the field speak for him. Ultimately, this will speak volumes for his brand and the team that drafts him. Paul Swangard, the managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Centre at the University of Oregon says,“While this is a significant announcement given the sport, the general hope is that he’s just accepted as one of the other men on the roster, and therefore his marketability is still simply tied to his ability to play well on the field and ultimately make the team”Nike Inc., which has openly supported LGBTQ athletes like Brittney Griner (WNBA) and Jason Collins (NBA), is a likely partner to sign and endorse Michael Sam to a sponsorship deal as part of their “Be True” campaign. For every purchase from the #BeTrue collection, the LGBT Sports Coalition receives donations to support the goal of ending discrimination in sport.Clearly, Sam is not just testing the boundaries of the sport but the attitudes of companies that pay athletes outrageous amounts of dollars to represent their brands. However, branding experts say that attitudes have changed enough throughout the years to include Sam in their roster of athletes endorsing their shoes, apparel, soda, and cars, to name a few.
We have seen the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin fiasco roll out right before our eyes, which goes to show that the locker room culture in the NFL is not exactly the most welcoming place for anyone who falls into the minority group in any way. Since coming out, however, copious figures from the sporting world have publicly announced their support and respect for Michael Sam. We don’t exactly know just how much gay rights has evolved and grown in North America, but thanks to the bravery of Michael Sam, the NFL may soon offer us a glimpse of how we, as a society, have accepted You Can Play Project’s adage of “if you can play, you can play”.