Once again, the St. Louis Rams are leading the National Football League into the future. In 1946, the Rams (then in Los Angeles) defied the bigots in the bleachers and on rival teams by signing Kenny Washington, an African-American, to its formerly all-white roster.
Before Washington became the first African-American to play in the NFL, the conventional wisdom was that many white fans would not accept racial integration of the sport. But Washington’s talent on the field silenced the bigots, making it easier for the black athletes who followed to be accepted and respected in the NFL.
Last week, the St. Louis Rams selected Michael Sam, 24, of the University of Missouri in the seventh round of the NFL draft. Earlier this year, Mr. Sam, who was the Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year, announced that he was gay, jeopardizing his future in the NFL.
Mr. Sam’s solid performance on the college gridiron could have been overshadowed by his revelation, but it wasn’t. When the Rams drafted him, they proved they were more interested in fixing their defensive game than perpetuating bigotry.
One day, drafting players who happen to be gay will be as unremarkable as drafting players who happen to be black. But just as Kenny Washington had to walk through that door for black players first, Mr. Sam’s frankness about himself will open doors — and minds — for others.