Michael Sam: Creating Individuals of Conformists?

We make choices every day, including the decision of whether we want to conform to the ideals of society or make our own path. In the eyes of political theorist John Stuart Mill we must listen to the ideas of people as we grow up, but as we hit adulthood we must stray from the expectations of others and make our own decisions. These decisions create unique approaches to various situations and scenarios that might set new precedents or norms for society.

The world of sports is always changing, as controversial topics and debates affect all aspects of life for the public. Recently, Michael Sam has become a major figure in the NFL, but for his actions off the field rather than on it. Prior to entering the NFL draft Sam became the first openly gay player in the league, sparking debate over the issue of sexuality.

Mill would agree Michael is an individual, considering he went against societal norms and initiated another form of acceptance within one of the most popular pastimes in America, yet his actions have established another model for athletes in the future.

Michael Sam playing for the St. Louis Rams.
Michael Sam playing for the St. Louis Rams.

In November, GQ magazine named Michael Sam one of the 2014 Men of the Year. In the interview, Michael stated that he didn’t want this story to happen, claiming that the media portrays him as the gay football player rather than a football player who happens to be gay. Whether he wants it or not, Sam has become a role-model for other players in sport leagues across the United States. This began when Barrack Obama congratulated Michael, the Rams, and the NFL for taking an important step forward in the nations’ journey. Since then, a number of collegiate athletes from across the nation have come out publicly in a variety of sports. Looking at the way Missouri handled the situation with Michael Sam gives hope for others in his position. 

Though Sam is happy he has inspired other athletes to follow in his footsteps, the decision by these athletes to take the same actions as him is another form of conformity. The theory proposed by Mill would encourage other gay athletes to find unique and different ways to go about their personal situations as opposed to simply following the path made by Michael Sam.

Missouri students holding T-shirts showing their support for Michael Sam.
Missouri students holding T-shirts showing their support for Michael Sam.

Instead, they should look at what Sam did and make their own choices and make a decision for themselves. Additionally, Mill would encourage other participants in sports who are gay to be individuals and not conform to the ideals of society, by keeping it secret.

Regardless, this is a great example of what Mill wants to see happen within the general public, and Michael Sam is a true individual who chose to be himself without a care for the expectations of others. As the years progress, it is apparent more athletes will come out about their sexuality and this is in part due to Sam. The question is, will these individuals choose to deal with their situation in their own way, or instead conform to the precedent now in place?

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2 thoughts on “Michael Sam: Creating Individuals of Conformists?

  1. The opposite of courage is not cowardice; it is conformity. That’s the problem today; people striving to be someone else because, evidently, they feel like being themselves is not good enough.

    I think it is important to have role models, but, ultimately, everyone should strive to be the best version of themselves they can be. John Stuart Mill addresses a valid issue and was ahead of his time for doing so.

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  2. Although I understand your ideas about Mill and Michael Sam and conformity, I am not sure I would view Michael Sam as a “role model” for gay athletes. I see him more as a trailblazer for those still afraid to come out. Mill encourages individuality which Sam definitely shows; however, I don’t agree with calling every player who comes out in major sports a conformist. They are not conforming because being gay in professional sports is still not a societal norm. I liked the post and the ideas behind it despite the few minor differences I feel.

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