"A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others" - L. Frank Baum
The best stories are products of reality. They are narratives of inspiration, courage, undeniable truth and achievement that not only impact the way society is appreciated, but also possess the ability to unify even the largest and most diverse of populations. These stories are rare, but they appear when the moment is right as they occur at times when the audience expects them the least, but needs them the most.
Stories of this magnitude are truly special in that the achievement of the hero is significant because of those who the hero represents and is supported by. These are testaments of the company we keep, the most valuable asset anyone can possess, and remind us how much stronger we are when we come together to stand united.
The 1980 U.S. Hockey team is one example of this type of story. Michael Sam's revelation of his sexual orientation is another.
When the Americans defeated the Soviets on the ice in Lake Placid 34 years ago, they won more than simply a hockey game or an opportunity to play for a gold medal. They defied the odds in accomplishing a feat that nobody on the planet believed possible. More than a comeback win against the world's greatest opponent, the "Miracle on Ice" will withstand the tests of time in American history because it was the sole, physical battle of the Cold War in which the country not only became united when it needed to be the most, but also emerged as victorious as the underdog of the matchup.
So how can that epic story possible be compared to Michael Sam and his quest to become the NFL's first openly gay player? Because Sam's announcement said a lot more about his coaches, teammates, classmates, and university than it did himself just as the U.S. victory against the U.S.S.R. was a statement of American pride and values more than the team's ability to play the game of hockey.
When Michael Sam told the world he was gay it came as no surprise to not only his coaches and teammates, but also to many students and faculty members at the University of Missouri. In fact, I'm a senior, I've known since I was a sophomore, and I'm far from alone as several members of the Mizzou student body have known for quite some time.
That's right, college students in the Show Me State are showing the nation the power of acceptance and proving that who loves you is more important than who you are attracted to. They are also reminding us that our union was founded as a melting pot, that America is the land of the free and home of the brave where privacy is a right, not a privilege. Making this powerful lesson even more remarkable is that not only is it occurring in an age where information has never been easier to access, but also it comes from a university known for producing journalists.
Yes, even those who attend the nation's top journalism school choose to withhold this bit of knowledge from the public. Why? Because, believe it or not, journalism's first obligation is to the truth and while it is the job of journalists to make society more aware and knowledgable of itself so that more informed decisions can be made its members, information such as this can only be shared and made valid by its primary source, for only then can it be considered the truth. And while not every student at the University of Missouri studies journalism, we're all members of the Mizzou family who are proud to live by the Black and Gold Standard and supporting Tigers of every variety because together we are strong. Together we are One Mizzou.
During his days in Columbia, Michael Sam wasn't known for his attraction to men, but rather, his ability to lead them, both on and off the football field. At Mizzou, Michael Sam was more than an All-American football player. He was a scholar, a classmate, a friend, and a man of admirable character. If college students can appreciate others for who they really are, exemplify integrity, and respect, rather than label, others for accepting themselves, why can't those who are older and more mature do the same?
Indeed, the human barricade made by Mizzou students on Saturday was a symbolic embodiment of their years of silence. But the other side of Michael Sam's revelation doesn't end with the students, for the best element has yet to be put into perspective.
Mizzou entered the 2013 football season as the conference’s bastard child from the Midwest. After representing the SEC East in Atlanta and earning the 2014 Cotton Bowl crown, the Tigers of Columbia were the darlings of the most competitive and toughest conference in the country. On Defense, they were led by a man they were aware was gay, but knew him better as a bold captain and tenacious pass-rusher.
On the opposite side of the ball, the Tigers were led by two quarterbacks whose identities appeared to not only oppose each other, but that of Michael Sam as well. James Franklin, a devote evangelical, and Matty Mauk, a freshman who has also been referred to as "Fratty" Mauk or "Mizzou’s Manziel", set their personal differences aside from both themselves and Sam to personify brotherhood and teamwork. While these three where not alone in their leadership efforts, they proved that those who believe in others, who sacrifice for a cause larger than themselves can accomplish far more than any individual can alone.
Michael Sam's revelation was also a testament, a declaration. It is unfair to say that his announcement was only about his sexual orientation just as it is ignorant to judge anyone by anything other than the content of their character. By coming out of the closet, he opened up new doors of opportunity for our society.
When Michael Sam told the world he was gay, he reminded us why America is special the same way the 1980 U.S. hockey team reminded us of our country's greatest principles. Our independence is what unites us all for united we stand, divided we fall.
In the end, the best stories are like the value of Michael Sam's heart – priceless.