If you watched the news or logged on to a social media site for any part of the past year, chances are you heard of Michael Sam. Michael Sam is a football player – a very good football player. After winning Co-Defensive Player of the Year at the University of Missouri for the 2013 season. Michael Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the 2014 National Football League (NFL) Draft, which doesn’t just happen to anyone.

Michael Sam also happens to identify as a homosexual. From what I could tell during the much-publicized clip of him and his boyfriend on draft day, Michael Sam is in a happy relationship. It looks like they both like cake. I think cake is probably a good thing in most relationships.

It just so happens that Michael Sam is also the first openly gay player to enter the NFL. “Well that’s pretty cool,” you’re probably saying. I agree. That’s a pretty neat little factoid. Unfortunately, a lot of people do not think it is cool. A lot of people feel that being gay is wrong. That’s OK. I have a lot of close friends and family who hold that same opinion. I disagree with them, but everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Several people also think that being gay should preclude you from participating in the NFL. That is not OK. Regardless of your political background, your religious beliefs, or your favorite character from The Office (Kevin…duh), you should be able to see that being gay does not affect your ability to play football. Being gay is not a crime. Being gay is really no different than liking apples more than oranges or fall more than summer. It’s a preference. If a player actually commits a crime, than they should be punished accordingly. Which brings us to Ray Rice.

Ray Rice is also a football player – a very good football player. For the past seven years, Ray Rice has been the running back for the Baltimore Ravens. He has been one of the best backs in the league during his tenure, even winning a Super Bowl in 2013. That doesn’t happen to just anyone.

Ray Rice was also caught on tape knocking his wife unconscious and dragging her out of an elevator. He was released from his contract with the Baltimore Ravens and has been suspended from the NFL indefinitely. Some people think that Rice’s punishment is too short.

Some think that he should be banned from the league for life. I disagree with these people with both of these extremists opinions.

Hitting your wife/girlfriend/significant other is vile, disgusting, and, unless it’s actually self-defense, inexcusable. If anyone has an opposing opinion, I would love to hear it, just so I can meet someone I will never be friends with. But the court of public opinion is too quick to play judge, jury, and executioner. With every moment of possible excitement, Twitter and Facebook will jump from one extreme or another. With Sam, some people wanted to put his bust in the Hall of Fame for advancing the game and breaking down barriers. Some wanted him kicked out of the league for being too distracting due to the media draw. With Rice, some people want to burn him at the stake to set an example, while some people think he shouldn’t be banned at all for his off the field incidents.

The answer for both of these men lies somewhere in the median. Michael Sam is brave. I hesitate to make grandiose comparisons to legends like Jackie Robinson or Billie Jean King, but he has certainly advanced the national conversation in the right direction. The fact remains, however, that Sam is unproven. He did not make the cut for the Rams roster and currently sits on the Cowboys’ practice squad. His accomplishments in college mean little to these players.

The media should, therefore, treat him like a practice squad player. Let Sam show that he deserves a spot in this league before we crown him or denounce him.

Ray Rice is a different scenario. He committed an egregious act, but should we call for his head on a platter? Should we not focus more on rehabilitation? The NFL has shown that it is a place of second chances. Players have taken and sold drugs, gambled, and even committed manslaughter, only to find their ways back on to an NFL roster. Why should we treat Rice any different? Let Rice prove to everyone that he can change. Let him make an effort to better himself, better his community, and try to make right the atrocious wrongs that he has committed. Domestic violence is a very serious issue, as is LGBTQ equality. But let’s separate the men from the athletes and let them live their lives.

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