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Published: Friday, 5/16/2014


Broken barrier

The Rams again are leading the National Football League into the future.

In 1946, the Rams (then in Los Angeles) defied bigots in the bleachers and on rival teams by signing Kenny Washington, an African-American, to the team’s formerly all-white roster.

Before Mr. Washington became the first African-American to play in the NFL, the conventional wisdom was that white fans would not accept racial integration of the sport. But Mr. Washington’s talent on the field silenced the bigots, making it easier for the black athletes who followed to be accepted and respected in professional football.

Last week, the St. Louis Rams selected Michael Sam, 24, of the University of Missouri in the seventh round of the NFL draft. This year, Mr. Sam, who was the Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year, announced that he was gay, potentially jeopardizing his NFL future.

Mr. Sam’s solid performance on the field 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 prejudice.

One day, drafting gay players, in any sport, will be as unremarkable as drafting black players. But just as Mr.Washington had to walk through that door for black players first, Mr. Sam’s frankness about himself will open doors — and minds — for others.

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