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Ben Smith

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Giant step taken with little fuss

Maybe this is how the world changes, with soft affirmation instead of thunderous discord. With, instead of strife and clamor, the quiet benediction of shrugged shoulders.

And so here was Missouri defensive end and NFL prospect Michael Sam announcing that he’s gay, and the news was that there was no news. Twitter sparked to life, but you were hard-pressed to find any strife or clamor. Only a flurry of attaboys and good-for-hims in 140 characters, as if the first openly gay soon-to-be NFL player was a phenomenon that came along every day.

It’s worth noting, after all, that Sam said his decision to come out was sparked by his experience at the Senior Bowl, where he found that a lot of people pretty much already knew he was gay.

“I didn’t realize how many people actually knew, and I was afraid that someone would tell or leak something out about me,” Sam told ESPN’s “Outside The Lines.” “I want to own my truth. … No one else should tell my story but me.”

It’s a story that certainly has historic significance, but in 2014 it no longer qualifies as social upheaval. It’s a mere acknowledgment of a truth long known – that there have been gays forever in not only the NFL but in every imaginable walk of life, even if we didn’t know it at the time. And that society not only was not torn asunder by their presence, but was in many ways enriched by it.

So this is nothing new, a man telling the world he’s gay. And if that represents progress, so does the fact that – as with former NBA player Jason Collins last summer – it was met with, except for a few knuckleheads, such apparent equanimity.

“There is no room for bigotry in American sports. It takes courage to change the culture,” tweeted Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith.

“Good for Michael Sam. Hopefully this’ll inspire others to be comfortable and proud of who they are,” added Colts punter Pat McAfee.

“We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello tweeted.

To be sure, the day may be still out there when gay Americans no longer feel compelled to announce their gayness. But until that day comes, this will do.

It will do the way it did 40 years ago in the American South, which was facing its own mighty social upheaval. It was the 1970s, and all across the South school districts were at last integrating after years of bloody and sometimes murderous resistance. Yet when the time came, integration in the South by and large happened far more peacefully than anyone would have guessed.

With shrugged shoulders, in other words. After all the strife and clamor.

And as for Michael Sam ...

Listen carefully. That sound you don’t hear?

It’s the sound of a giant step. Forward.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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