Michael Sam had a very good year meting out violence to his opponents. The 6-3, 260-pound defensive end helped lead Missouri to a 12-2 record, was named the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year, and, in other news, told the world that he's gay.
The question now is whether NFL teams will be too stupid to draft him as high as they should—if at all. But first, a brief detour.
There's a naïve, and willfully ignorant, theory that the market will end public prejudice. That the government doesn't need to (and shouldn't) force businesses to stop discriminating because discriminating is bad for business, so they'll stop on their own. It's a free market fairy tale that some libertarians still like to tell themselves about why the Civil Rights Act supposedly went too far. The only problem is we know it's BS. If the market were going to end Jim Crow, the market would have ended Jim Crow. It didn't.
But there is one area where markets have broken down barriers: professional sports. Talent is so rare and competition is so tough that smart teams look for it where others won't. They can't afford to be bigoted—or otherwise myopic. Sometimes that's something as small as the Seattle Seahawks caring more about production than prototypical size when it came to a quarterback named Russell Wilson. Other times it's something bigger, like the San Antonio Spurs caring more about natural ability than nationality when it came to Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. And then there are the times it's been a social barometer: like in the 1940s and 1950s, when teams started caring more about winning than Whiteness. Back then, it wasn't enough just to integrate, but it was a damn good start.
Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color line in 1947, and his Dodgers had quite a run. They won six pennants, got robbed of another, and took home one World Series title. Chuck Cooper did the same for basketball three years later, and though he left after just a few seasons, his Celtics kept the firsts coming. They were the first NBA team to start five Black players together and the first to have a Black head coach after Bill Russell got the gig in addition to his day job as their starting center. They won 11 championships in 13 seasons.