Michael Sam a novelty? Not really

Conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh, who was part of a team trying to buy the St. Louis Rams in 2009, infamously said on ESPN's "Sunday NFL Countdown" in 2003: "I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in [Donovan] McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve."

By the way, McNabb had his No. 5 retired by the Philadelphia Eagles this year, an honor not usually bestowed to marketing ploys.

Will Sam be subjected to the same kind of unfair scrutiny?

Probably.

The first in anything of significance -- and despite four decades of gay players, Sam's disclosure is still major -- will be under a magnifying glass.

But he has one of the best PR men in Howard Bragman guiding him. He has Wade Davis, a former NFL player who is openly gay as well, to help mentor him. He has gay rights organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign and You Can Play to help steer the national conversation.

And more importantly, he has talent.

Undeniable, pro-level talent.

The kind of talent that would make the prospect of him not being drafted, not being signed, not having his cleats laced up on Sundays perhaps the most blatant form of pop culture homophobia since Ellen DeGeneres was chased off of television in 1998.

That was a long time ago.

Matthew Shepard was beaten and left for dead in a field in Wyoming that same year. An event so monumental that Jason Collins, who is still waiting for the NBA to call him back to work after coming out last summer, wore No. 98 on his jersey as a quiet tribute to him. In 1998, Alaska and President Obama's home state of Hawaii, passed initiatives to ban same-sex marriages. In 1998, the NFL gave the Defensive Player of the Year award to Reggie White, a man who spent a good chunk of his offseason time vilifying gays and lesbians without so much as a fine.

Some things haven't changed in the NFL.

But when the league's previous commissioner has an openly gay son, and the current commissioner has an openly gay brother, some cultural changes are inevitable.

Sam's disclosure is just one more in a series of steps toward a league without homophobia. And if you find this latest development shocking, well, you might have been watching the NFL, but you haven't been paying attention.

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