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UnMuzzled: When It’s More Than Just a Game

Dilip Vishwanat/Sam Greenwood, Getty Images

Two college athletes were at the center of the sports world Sunday for actions that had nothing to do with the outcome of the games they play. Both led to discussions much bigger than sports.

Let’s start with what took place on Saturday night in Texas. In the final minutes of a game between the Oklahoma State Cowboys and the Texas Tech Red Raiders, Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart committed a foul and ended up on the floor just underneath the basket. Suddenly his head jerked back in response to something he heard from the crowd and within moments he was face to face with a male fan who he then shoved before being held back by his teammates.

This brief moment quickly became all the buzz across social media channels and the video went viral. The obvious reaction for most was what a foolish thing for Smart to do, but the second was what could the fan have said or done that would elicit that kind of reaction? It didn’t take long to hear that the alleged comment made by the fan included a racial slur which greatly changed the dynamic of the situation.

Co-host of ESPN morning show ‘Mike and Mike’, Mike Greenberg, summed up the situation in a tweet Sunday morning:

Smart was obviously in the wrong shoving the fan, he’s not the first athlete to be harassed nor will he be the last, but can you blame him?

The NCAA decided to suspend Smart for 3 games, a big hit to an Oklahoma State team that’s already struggling and only has a few weeks to get it together before March Madness. However, this could also be a hit to Marcus Smart when the NBA draft comes up this summer. His poise and maturity were things that experts said separated him from the pack, but after this incident (along with a moment in a game a few weeks ago in which he kicked a chair out of frustration) those characteristics will surely be questioned.

Another collegiate athlete made headlines on Sunday as well. Michael Sam, Missouri Defensive End and Co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year, announced that he is gay. Sam is projected to be a mid round draft pick in this year’s NFL draft and if that does indeed happen that would make him the first openly gay man in the NFL. Whatever your beliefs may be, this is undoubtedly one of the most courageous things done by an individual in sports history.

What Michael Sam is doing is a huge step for organized sports as well as modern society and not only will he serve as a role model for the LGBT community, but for any kid out there who ever felt like they had to hide who they really were in order to get by. However, the road will surely have its bumps along the way.

Former Celtics center Jason Collins made headlines last year when he came out, making him the first active player in one of the big four American sports (baseball, basketball, football, and hockey) to do so. However, since his announcement, Collins has not signed a new contract with any team. Now, it’s very likely his age and career productivity play a role in that.

Collins is 35 and has never averaged more than six points per game in a season, but you can’t help but wonder if there are other factors keeping him from getting a chance. Michael Sam has his entire career ahead of him, and when you’re named one of the top defenders in a conference that has given the NFL many of its elite defenders, you’re going to be looked at by every team in the league. In just about three months the NFL draft will be held, and it won’t be until that day that we see what impact Sam’s decision to come out will have on his draft stock. What we do know is that the moment his name is announced may just be looked at as one of the most historically important moments in American sport’s history.

As far as those who believe having a gay man in the locker will hurt the team, Sam came out to his Missouri teammates in August of last year. In the months that followed the Tigers tied their best record in school history, won the Cotton Bowl, and did it all in perhaps college football’s most competitive conference. They seemed to do just fine.

Each week John Muzzy rants about things going on in sports because who doesn’t love that guy?

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