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Friday, January 30, 2015  |   Madison, WI: 20.0° F  
MADLAND: A group blog about life in Madison, Wisconsin
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Madland: The Packers should draft Michael Sam
By many accounts, the Packers would gain a great football player -- and a nice guy -- in drafting Sam.
By many accounts, the Packers would gain a great football player -- and a nice guy -- in drafting Sam.

Why don't the Green Bay Packers draft Michael Sam?

Real sports fans: Spare me the "that's-not-how-it-works" explanation. I confess I have no idea (and little interest) in how the NFL Draft works.

I just like to sit down with my family, chips and dip, and watch the Packers work their magic -- Eddie Lacy powering through like a bulldozer, Aaron Rodgers throwing the ball like a god, and Clay Matthews' arms doing anything. I love that the Pack is community-owned. So shouldn't we have a say in the draft?

Like a lot of people, I've been captivated by the story of Sam, a talented college player who came out as gay and is entering the draft. When he is selected, Sam will be the first openly gay player in the NFL.

The New York Times ran a poignant piece about Sam's childhood in a troubled family in Hitchcock, Texas. Sam has already been through a lot in his life, including rejection by members of his own family -- and now he's going to have all eyes on him as he tries to break into the hyper-macho, violent, and often homophobic pro football culture.

My favorite response to the whole Sam story is in this video clip, in which a Texas sportscaster points out the NFL's history of acceptance of criminals and abusers.

We'll take Sam. Wisconsin is the perfect place for a gay rights pioneer.

Ours is the first gay rights state. In 1982, Republican Governor Lee Dreyfus signed the country's first ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, education, credit, and public accommodations. We are the first state to elect an openly gay senator, Tammy Baldwin.

Since 2006, though, Wisconsin has also banned gay marriage. That's despite the fact that all our neighbor states (minus Michigan) now allow same-sex marriage.

But the past few weeks have been a flurry of activity designed to usurp that marriage ban. Earlier this month, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit challenging the marriage ban on behalf of four couples, including Madisonians Judy Trampf and Katie Heyning. And, as Isthmus reported, state Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa and Sen. Tim Carpenter are introducing legislation to repeal the ban.

In a statement announcing the repeal effort, issued during a Thursday press conference at the Capitol in Madison, Katie Belanger, president and CEO of Fair Wisconsin, said, "Many of us have gay and lesbian family members, neighbors, co-workers, and friends whom we love and respect, and who are good parents and good people. They deserve to be treated equally. Repealing our ban and moving one step closer to allowing same-sex couples to join marriage is critical to ensure that all families are treated with dignity and respect."

By many accounts, the Packers would gain a great football player -- and a nice guy -- in drafting Sam. And as a bonus, his willingness to go public will shatter the myth that a gay man can't share a locker room with a straight dude. (Excuse me, but I'm pretty sure they have been doing that ever since the first naked Olympic games.)

I also admire Packers head coach Mike McCarthy for standing with Michael Sam. "I think you definitely have to feel he's a courageous young man but my understanding is he's a talented young player," McCarthy was quoted as saying. "Any player who can come here and be a good teammate and follow the rules of our program, which is, one, be respectful and produce on the football field, we have room for that guy."

McCarthy follows in the footsteps of legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi, who, I just discovered, was tolerant and supportive of gay players.

I found this quote on May 2013 post on Pro Football Talk, published by NBC Sports.

"In 1969, Lombardi's Redskins included a running back named Ray McDonald, who in 1968 had been arrested for having sex with another man in public. In the Lombardi biography When Pride Still Mattered, author David Maraniss writes that Lombardi told his assistants he wanted them to work with McDonald to help him make the team, 'And if I hear one of you people make reference to his manhood, you'll be out of here before your ass hits the ground.'"

Right on, Vince. And right on, Mike. Go Pack!

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