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Michael Sam’s Impact Extends Much Further than the NFL

Published onSep 02, 2014
Michael Sam’s Impact Extends Much Further than the NFL

“With the 249th pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, the St. Louis Rams select Michael Sam, defensive end, Missouri.” - Roger Goodell

To millions of people, Michael Sam is a hero. After years of hard work and dedication, devoting his life to football, he risked damaging his draft stock and possibly his NFL career by sharing with the world that he is gay. Until May 10th of this year, an NFL team has never drafted an openly gay player.

Most of the news around Sam has been about his role in the Ram’s organization, while less is said about the legal impact that he is already having. Consider this: Sam now works in the state of Missouri, a state where employers can choose to fire you for being gay. Currently, Missouri Statutes, Title VII Chapter 213.055 states that it is unlawful for an employer to “discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, national origin, sex, ancestry, age or disability.” Noticeably missing from this language is recognition of “sexual orientation.”

Missouri law, like many other states, still allows for employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. However, Sam has become a talking point behind one of Missouri’s newest bills, House Bill No. 1930, more commonly known as the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act (MONA). MONA proposes an amendment to the Missouri Human Rights Act by adding specific language prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It was introduced to the House in February and a public hearing has been completed, however the Missouri General Assembly adjourned this past May without a vote. If passed, MONA would extend to both private and public sectors.

It is important to note that a small number of cities across the country, including St. Louis, have extended their city discrimination ordinances to include sexual orientation, but MONA would affect the state as a whole. State law would preempt city ordinances making discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity illegal statewide. In addition, it would be another “win” for the LGBT community, bringing them another step closer to a potential change in federal law.

In a time where the public and the legislature have become more accepting of same sex couples, supporters of the bill believe that it will pass. Sam may prove to be the final piece of the puzzle. With training camp underway, he is focused on football and tries to deflect personal questions when he can. However, Sam’s image and stature have made the greatest impact. He has drawn media attention and stirred heated debate. If you are watching the NFL or a sports network, you are almost forced to consider your own view on gay rights. While most bills hit the floor, lose traction, and leave the public eye, citizens of Missouri may be reminded of MONA every Sunday.

*AJ is a second year law student at Wake Forest University. He received a bachelor’s degree in finance from Florida State University in 2011. 

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