Tag Archives: sports counseling

A counselor looks at football

By Kevin Doyle January 29, 2018

I have been a lifelong football fan. I remember playing outside in the snow, emulating the National Football League (NFL) stars of the 1960s and then going inside to watch some of the fabled rivalries of the time, like the Kansas City Chiefs versus the Oakland Raiders. I grew up on Joe Namath’s Super Bowl guarantee, Franco Harris’s “Immaculate Reception,” and the undefeated Miami Dolphins team of 1972. My beloved Washington football franchise (yes, that name is a problem — but that is for another story) owned the 1980s (along with the San Francisco 49ers), and my brother and I sported Charley Taylor (42) and Larry Brown (43) jerseys in the previous decade. My two sons played the game at the high school level, both excelling and taking much from the experience. In short, I was raised on football in many ways.

All of these things will stay with me, but recent events have conspired to lead me to question of whether the sport in its current form is morally defensible. Recently, coverage of the death by suicide of former New England Patriots player, and convicted murderer, Aaron Hernandez, noted that his brain had advanced chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and a study published in 2017 in JAMA found evidence of CTE in 110 of 111 former NFL players.

Former NFL player Antwaan Randle El, a nine-year NFL veteran who is now in his late 30s, recently spoke out about his memory problems. He became the latest in a series of both high- and low-profile professional players known or alleged to have had serious brain issues possibly due to their football careers. This includes well-known players such as Junior Seau, Dave Duerson, Mike Webster and Frank Gifford.

The national discourse has been stirred by Steve Almond’s searing Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto; the film Concussion, based on the work of forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu and the work of Jeanne Marie Laskas in her article for GQ titled Game Brain; as well as pro football works such as Gregg Easterbrook’s The Game’s Not Over: In Defense of Football and Mark Edmundson’s Why Football Matters: My Education in the Game.

What, then, is the role of the professional counselor in this debate — or is there one? I submit that counselors in a variety of settings have a responsibility to be aware of this issue that is currently facing our culture, and there are several reasons why.

First, this appears to be a significant safety issue for a segment of our population, namely those individuals who have either played football in the past or are currently playing. No less an authority than the Mayo Clinic has reported that symptoms such as aggression, motor impairment, tremor, memory loss, irritability and focusing problems are associated with CTE.

If an adult male were to report symptoms such as these in counseling, it could be prudent to check to see if the client was once a football player. Referral for additional medical assessment could be an appropriate course of action, although currently, no effective treatments for CTE-related symptoms seem to be available. In fact, a definitive diagnosis cannot be made until tests of the brain can be conducted after an individual’s death.

For players currently involved in football, repeated concussions could be placing those individuals at increased risk and should be monitored. Most levels of play, including the NFL and NCAA, have put so-called “concussion protocols” in place to prevent players from continuing to play until they have received medical clearance. Although counselors would likely not play a leading role in these determinations, it would be advisable for counselors working on college campuses, with professional football players or even at lower levels (high school, middle school, youth football) to be aware of them and to support efforts to protect player safety.

Second, the question of whether to allow children to play football has become an emotional and sometimes conflict-ridden debate within families. Participation rates in both high school and youth football have widely been reported to be declining and show no signs of changing in the near future, according to numerous sources.

Counselors routinely work with children and families, and reaching a decision about whether a child should play football can be difficult. An informed decision must balance the potential safety concerns associated with the sport and the potential benefits of playing the sport, including physical activity and learning about teamwork and discipline. In some families, football is seen as a rite of passage — something that adolescent males (and, in some cases, females) engage in as part of the maturation process. In some cases, it may be the child who desperately wants to play, while the parents are warier. In other cases, parental pressure on a child to participate may be the driving issue. In either instance, a counselor, whether school-based or community-based, may be in a position to help the family make this decision. Knowledge of some of the relevant issues is essential to any effort to be of assistance.

Third is the reality that any societal issue can make its way into a counseling session. This is not to imply that we as counselors need to be experts on any and all social and societal issues. However, we do have a responsibility to be aware of burgeoning issues facing our culture and to be ready to discuss or address them —or at least to listen to our clients do so.

Many of us no doubt had clients with opinions about the most recent presidential election. Their thoughts naturally made their way into counseling sessions. Our own personal feelings aside, we had a responsibility as counselors to listen, to consider our clients feelings and opinions, and to ponder what role, if any, these thoughts contributed to the stressors they were facing. Likewise, we must strive as counselors to stay informed about myriad issues of relevance to our clients. Societal question such as same-sex marriage, health care, immigration and employment barriers for those with criminal convictions, to name a few, play out in our clients’ lives on a daily basis.

Granted, the issue of football may pale in comparison to some of these, but we have a responsibility nonetheless to pay attention, to inform ourselves and to monitor the debate, because it may well come up in a counseling session with an individual or family. If we are unaware of this issue (or another one), we may need to do further research in between sessions or, in extreme cases, even consider referring our client to another provider with more knowledge of the issue he or she is facing.

Finally, there are social justice issues to be considered, consistent with the counseling profession’s recent emphasis in this area. One would have to have been living under the proverbial rock not to have noticed the emotional national dialogue around NFL players sitting or kneeling during the playing of the national anthem. Started by former San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016, this protest has spread to other players and teams and led to an increasingly hostile “conversation” about the form of the protest itself, overshadowing the issue of police brutality that Kaepernick sought to highlight.

The various authors I noted earlier identified numerous concerns more specifically related to football that are of a social justice nature. Approximately 68 percent of NFL players are African American, and the treatment of players has been criticized by some as evoking memories of slavery by the so-called “owners” of the franchises. Anyone who has ever watched the “meat market” known as the NFL Combine, which consists partly of athletes’ bodies being examined by prospective employers (owners), and which is now nationally televised, cannot help but notice this parallel. With the average NFL career lasting less than four years and contracts, even when lucrative, not being guaranteed in case of injury, discerning individuals can easily raise legitimate social justice questions.

In summary, a growing national conversation about football, its viability, its safety and its future is becoming difficult to ignore. Counselors at various levels and in various settings have a responsibility not only to be aware of this conversation, but also to consider its significance in relation to the clients with whom we work. Engaging in this conversation is consistent with current calls within the profession for social justice.

 

 

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Kevin Doyle is a licensed professional counselor in Virginia and an associate professor in the counselor education program at Longwood University. He has also coached youth, high school and adult sports for the past 30 years. Contact him at doyleks@longwood.edu.

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

 

Counseling, football, recovery and triumph

By Bethany Bray September 28, 2015

In a life of ups and downs, football has been a constant for Chris Harris, a 34-year old limited licensed professional counselor (LLPC).

Among the struggles Harris has faced was a battle with severe depression that threatened to derail his life at a young age. Football served as a saving grace for him during some of his darkest periods — times when life didn’t seem worth living.

Chris Harris, LLPC

Chris Harris, LLPC

Harris’ example of how football can change lives for the better was featured in the National Football League’s “Together We Make Football” campaign in 2013. He was one of 10 finalists from across the United States featured in nationally televised video clips on Thanksgiving Day.

In the NFL’s three-minute video, Harris explained how football had been a lifesaver for him, in addition to providing him with an opportunity to become a leader and peer counselor on a newly established club team at Oakland University in Michigan.

When he was younger, “I couldn’t see myself living to even be 20 [years old],” Harris says, citing his struggles with alcohol addiction, depression and fitting in with peers. “Anytime I got really down, football would come knocking. That’s why I love football.”

Harris says football will always be a central part of his life, even though his playing days may be behind him. He graduated from Oakland University this year with a master’s degree in counseling.

Harris wants to build a platform from which he can reach people who are wrestling with some of the issues he has struggled with, including depression, anger, alcoholism, bullying and finding focus and direction in life.

He has established a private practice and hopes to eventually specialize in sports counseling and youth development and mentoring. He would also like to become a public speaker.

“I’ve always had a natural passion for helping people,” he says. “With my personal experience with mental illness and trauma, I know how that impacts people. … I have a passion to be a bridge builder.”

When Harris speaks about the potential for recovery and triumph, it’s personal. Counselors should never underestimate the power of growth and development to change a person’s life, he says.

“Even if a client doesn’t see it in that moment, have the vision of them yourself growing and developing to achieve the life that they want for themselves,” he says. “As a counselor, make sure you maintain that vision of them getting healthy, recovering and achieving the triumph that they would like, because it is possible.”

 

‘I would have never imagined myself being here’

The 6-foot-5-inch Harris played football as a youngster growing up in Detroit. At age 19, he made the roster of the Motor City Cougars and played semi-professionally for four years.

ChrisHarris_1Playing with the Motor City Cougars pulled him out of a downward spiral he fell into after high school, including a bout of depression, alcohol dependency and grief over the death of his grandfather.

He fell into another dark depression in 2009 when he was six months shy of earning an undergraduate degree in social work at Wayne State University in Detroit.

Although his 2009 mental health crisis was as a breakdown, it also marked a breakthrough for him, Harris says. Since that time, he has been able to rise above his struggles and make a 180-degree turn, he says.

He has completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Oakland University, where he also was a leader on the school’s club-level football team.

“At my darkest time, I would have never imagined myself being here,” says Harris, a national certified counselor (NCC). “But guess what? I did the work, I sacrificed, I made the decisions, and it happened. I know it sounds cliché, but if I can do it, anybody can do it.”

Harris is starting a yearlong internship this fall with Michigan College Access Network, an organization that works to boost the percentage of Michigan residents who go to college. The organization places particular focus on students from families with low incomes and students who would be the first in their families to seek postsecondary education. Harris will be working in a local high school, where he will advise students on everything from choosing a college or academic major to applying for financial aid.

James Hansen, a professor and coordinator of the mental health specialization within Oakland University’s counseling department, describes Harris as a bright, warm, accepting and curious person.

“He glows with those qualities, and his clients will certainly benefit from that, as [will] the others in the counseling profession he encounters,” says Hansen, who is a member of the American Counseling Association.

“I admire his courage,” Hansen says of his former student. “His own journey informs his empathy and his ability to be an excellent helper. … He has a sincere desire to help others. I admire what he’s gone through.”

 

Trust and team building, on and off the field

Much like football, counseling is based on building relationships and trust with those you work with, says Harris. The relational aspect of counseling is what ultimately drew him to the profession, he says.

“[Counseling] has techniques and theories. However, it’s all about the relationship, the therapeutic alliance,” he says. “I feel in my heart that it’s the truth – relational health is central.”

As a counselor, Harris would like to work with athletes – a natural fit with his personal experience and with the profession’s relational approach.

“I understand the mentality of an athlete,” he says. “The same things that make them successful on the field of play can get them in trouble off the field – aggression, being strong, being a leader. It’s difficult for athletes to channel that in the right way. You can’t get rid of it (anger, competitiveness, etc.). It’s what you do when you’re angry that gets these people in trouble. I’d like to use my experience as a platform.”

Athletes are hard-wired to understand the give-and-take, trust and relationships that are part of being a tight-knit team, Harris explains. Counselors can leverage these skills when working with clients who are athletes, he adds.

Athletes will especially understand and respond when given a finite task or job to do, Harris says, because that’s what they’re used to in team sports. For example, athletes are used to having to go home and learn their playbook, he says. In counseling, this could translate to the “homework” assignments that counselors often give to clients, such as journaling or communication exercises.

“In sports, you’re used to a script [or playbook], following directions and doing your job,” Harris says. “If [a counselor] can sit down with an athlete, or anyone, and lay the foundation for the relationship to gain and earn their trust – after that, your counseling skills, the ability to sense patterns, read body language, etc., will benefit.”

“Counselors should listen first. Listen to your client speak about what inspires them, what drives them and what they desire,” he says. “Once you’re comfortable and know the client well enough, then you can begin to engage them from that perspective. Bring their struggle back to their strengths.”

 

 

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Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org

 

Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline and on Facebook: facebook.com/CounselingToday

 

From NFL linebacker to licensed professional counselor

By Bethany Bray June 22, 2015

Playing football in the National Football League (NFL) is not a career, it’s an experience, said Dwight Hollier, a former NFL linebacker who became a licensed professional counselor (LPC) after his playing days were over.

This lesson – one that took Hollier years to learn – is part of the message that he is working to spread throughout the NFL as part of the league’s new total wellness initiative.

The average player spends three and a half years in the NFL, according to Hollier. For players who

Dwight Hollier, a licensed professional counselor and the NFL's director of transition and clinical services, speaks at Mental Health America's annual conference this month in Alexandria, Virginia. Photo by B. Bray/Counseling Today

Dwight Hollier, a licensed professional counselor and the NFL’s director of transition and clinical services, speaks at Mental Health America’s annual conference this month in Alexandria, Virginia. (Photo by B. Bray/Counseling Today)

are drafted out of college, that average jumps to six years. Either way, it’s not a long time, said Hollier, who returned to the NFL in 2012 as director of transition and clinical services.

Hollier, speaking earlier this month at Mental Health America’s annual conference in Alexandria, Virginia, said he became depressed after retiring from playing in 2000. For a couple of years, he even stopped watching the sport he had loved since childhood.

“I didn’t know who I was without what I did,” said Hollier, who played eight years with the Miami Dolphins and one year with the Indianapolis Colts after starring in college at the University of North Carolina. “I would go cut the grass on Sundays [when NFL games were televised]. We had a very nice lawn at that time,” he said with a chuckle.

Today, Hollier is part of the NFL’s effort to support current and former players and their families off the field with everything from mental health issues and family relationships to adjusting to life after leaving the league.

“If you’ve been the best in the world at whatever you do, and then someone says you can’t do it anymore [because of injury, age or other reasons], that will affect you,” said Hollier, who previously worked as a licensed counselor in private practice before going to work for the NFL.

The NFL’s total wellness initiative includes everything from an employee assistance program that offers a series of free counseling sessions for current and former players and their families to financial literacy classes for young players who suddenly find themselves with money to spare. In 2012, the NFL established a 24/7 crisis line tailored to the needs of current and former players and their families.

Last year, Hollier was part of league-wide trainings on domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse.

“‘No, we don’t talk about that’ – that’s they way a lot of us were raised,” said Hollier. “This [total wellness program] gives us a platform to have important discussions. … These guys are more likely to listen to someone who has worn the boots [played football professionally].”

Part of the challenge is changing the “play through the pain” mentality that can permeate football, from professional players all the way down through the youth leagues. As a child, Hollier says he remembers being told to “suck it up” to keep others from seeing weakness or pain.

“If you hear that all the time, it becomes your modus operandi,” he said. “You internalize it, and it makes it more difficult to reach out for help.”

Dwight Hollier (Photo courtesy of the National Football League)

Dwight Hollier (Photo courtesy of the National Football League)

Hollier is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a dual degree in psychology and speech communication. He earned a master’s degree in mental health counseling from Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Florida, while playing linebacker for the Miami Dolphins. Prior to joining the NFL, Hollier worked with athletes and other individuals at Mind Over Body at Southeast Psych, a private practice in Charlotte, North Carolina.

 

 

 

 

 

Q+A with the NFL’s Dwight Hollier

 

Counseling Today: What made you decide to become a counselor?

Dwight Hollier: I think I was always a good listener growing up. I also know that my parents were giving people. We didn’t have a lot growing up, but we always had room for others. I have three siblings, but there were times where we had three or four other family members living with us. That spirit of giving and helping has stuck with me even to this day. I have to give my parents a lot of credit for the counseling spirit.

 

CT: You worked on your master’s degree in counseling while you played for the Miami Dolphins. Talk about how you decided on your post-playing vocation while still playing in the NFL.

DH: My undergraduate degree was speech communications and psychology. Psychology connected with me in a way speech communications did not, but I didn’t initially make the connection. When I was in my sixth year in the league, my teammates started calling me the “old dude” in the locker room, which really made me think that I probably needed to figure out what I was going to do next. I was only 27 or 28, but I had already beaten the odds, and I knew I should start exploring my life after football.

Fortunately, the Miami Dolphins training camp is located next to the Nova Southeastern University campus, and they had a fantastic counseling psychology program. I initially took a couple of classes to see if I could handle the workload. My coach at the time, Jimmy Johnson, and the rest of the coaching staff were really supportive, which allowed me to confidently pursue this degree. The program spoke to me right away, and I poured myself into being successful in both and was able to graduate in April of 2000, before playing my last season with the Indianapolis Colts.

 

CT: Could you talk about the counseling work you did before working for the NFL? Do you have a specialty?

DH: My initial practicum work was at a family violence center, where I worked with perpetrators and victims of abuse. The majority of my experience has been working with older adolescents and young adults around a variety of mental health issues. In my last couple of years of private practice, I did a lot of work with athletes around transition and adjustment challenges. I have worked as a foster care program manager, group home adviser, school social worker and football coach. All of these experiences helped shape the person I am today.

 

CT: Can you elaborate on what you do as director of transition and clinical services with the NFL?

DH: In my current role, I work with a great team of individuals in the Player Engagement Department to develop and implement psychoeducational programs for our NFL family to assist with success on and beyond the field. I also collaborate with our clinical partners to make sure we have the right wellness resources in place to assist players and their families.

 

CT: What made you want to get involved in this way?

DH: Some would say that I did a lot of things right in preparing for my transition, and I would agree. But I also know how difficult my transition was, even though I [had] put a lot of pieces in place. I know that there are a lot of men and families who have had a much shorter NFL experience and some who haven’t finished their undergraduate degree. This role is an opportunity to serve those men and their families and assist in smoothing out their transition in and out of the NFL.

 

CT: How do you use your counselor training and skills in this role?

DH: One of the main tools any counseling professional needs is unconditional positive regard and listening skills. Part of my role is listening and working to identify the needs of our population and working collaboratively to find the right resources.

 

CT: Why do you think your position is needed in the NFL?

DH: I believe all industries could use a sharper focus on wellness and the potential clinical needs of their workforce. I am blessed to have this opportunity.

 

CT: As an NFL insider, what would you want counselors who work with clients for whom professional football plays a prominent part or influence in their lives — devotion to a team, spending many hours watching games, etc. — to know?

DH: I think it is important to leave their assumptions and biases at the door. Cultural competency will play a big role as well. Because of the high profile of the NFL, our men and their families are easily stereotyped. The reality is that our men and families come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, and each should be treated as such. One bad experience with a counselor who doesn’t understand the culture could mean that this person never returns for the assistance he needs and potentially discourages others.

 

CT: Do you think there is more focus today on the mental health and wellness needs of professional athletes than when you were a player?

DH: In general, mental health awareness is much more prevalent than it was in the 1990s and early 2000s when I played. We have been much more intentional with addressing the stigma around mental health with our population. I also think that this generation is more aware and accepting of mental health issues and resources.

 

CT: What advice would you give to counselors who want to get involved with high-level athletes? Where or how could counselors be a help?

DH: I think it is important to learn as much as you can about athletes and the needs of athletes. There are great sports counseling and sports psychology programs out there that can help add a level of expertise to working with this population.

 

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Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org

 

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Counseling, sports and ‘coming out’: Michael Sam’s ripple effect

By Bethany Bray March 6, 2014

Is the National Football League ready for an openly gay player? What about society at large?

Many in the media have been raising these questions since University of Missouri football star and NFL prospect Michael Sam “came out” in interviews this winter.

MichaelSam

Michael Sam on the football field in 2013. Image via Wikimedia Commons

The defensive lineman from Hitchcock, Texas, had told his Mizzou teammates about his sexual orientation last year. He came out to the wider public in interviews with the New York Times and ESPN in early February.

The announcement made waves because Sam is said to be the first athlete to come out as gay before securing a job with an NFL team.

The ripple effect of Sam’s announcement will be felt across professional sports, certainly, but also down through youth sports and the counseling profession itself, say Taunya Tinsley and Hugh Crethar.

Crethar, an associate professor of counseling at Oklahoma State University, is president of the Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues in Counseling, a division of the American Counseling Association. Tinsley, a licensed professional counselor and assistant professor at California University of Pennsylvania, helped to found and facilitates ACA’s Sports Counseling Interest Network.

Sam, a Missouri senior, led his team to a win this year at the Cotton Bowl.  He was a first-team All-American and was voted Missouri’s most valuable player by his teammates. He is widely regarded as a professional prospect, but draft experts have questioned whether his revelation will hurt his stock in the upcoming NFL draft.

Jason Collins, who plays in the National Basketball Association, became the first active male professional athlete in a major American team sport to publicly come out as gay in spring of 2013.

 

Q+A: When athletes comes out

 

Do you see Michael Sam’s “coming out” having an impact on professional sports, and even youth and school sports or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues?

Tinsley: Absolutely! It has been said that “sport permeates all aspects of society and that even a person with very little interest in sport will interact with it in some way.” Additionally, the sporting environment is a microcosm of our society and, vice versa, society is reflective of the sporting environment. Gary Sailes and Louis Harrison (Sailes, G. & Harrison, L. Jr. (2008). Social issues of sport. In (A. Leslie-Toogood & E. Gill (Eds.), Advising student athletes. Monograph Series Number 18, National Academic Advising Association) state, “while racism, sexism, cheating, commercialism, education, socialization (among other factors) exist in society, they also exist in sport. People in society are the same individuals who make up sport. It is logical to assume that they bring the same values, culture and behavior to sport [including youth, K-12, college and professional sports] that they exhibit outside of sport.” Thus, it is important that those who work with the athlete population become knowledgeable of their specific needs, serve as support systems, develop culturally appropriate preventative programs and services as well as interventions, and engage in open and honest dialogue with the diversity of constituents within the athletic environment.

Crethar: Like others who have come before — such as Jackie Robinson as the first black Major League Baseball player; Fritz Pollard and Bobby Marshall, the first black players in the NFL; Jason Collins as the first openly gay player in the NBA; and Brittany Griner, the first openly lesbian player of the WNBA, Michael Sam continues the tradition of breaking ground for the acceptance of diversity in sports as well as the embracing of affectional diversity in our society.

 

How might it affect the work sports counselors do?

Tinsley: It does not just affect the work that sports counselors do but all professional counselors.  The athlete population has not always been considered a specific and diverse cultural group, which means the training for this population has been challenged, lacking or deficient. However, by extending the principles of multicultural counseling (i.e., self-awareness, worldview knowledge, culturally appropriate skills, techniques and interventions and the ability to develop a cross-cultural therapeutic relationship) to include the athlete population, professional counselors may be in a better position to receive formalized instruction beyond the basic counselor preparation.  Additionally, counselors may also be in a better position to respond to the developmental needs of the athlete population, including the diversity within the athlete culture, as well as enhance their skills and services that they provide. Furthermore, this provides a further rationale of the importance of integrating a social justice perspective in our work as counselors.

 

What are your thoughts, from a counseling perspective?

Tinsley: Although Michael Sam had already come out to himself and to his teammates at the University of Missouri, I think it is great that he had the courage and is proud enough, as well as strong enough emotionally, to come out as gay in the media networks. From a counseling perspective, we know that the consequences of identity confusion and internalized homophobia may include low self-esteem, self-hatred, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Additionally, we know from research and the literature that the coming-out process happens when individuals who identify as gay or lesbian come to accept being gay or lesbian as an important aspect of their [multiple] identity. Based on Michael Sam coming out to the media, in addition to himself and his college teammates, one could surmise that he has transitioned to identity synthesis.

However, from a counseling perspective, I do get concerned [about] the prejudice, oppression and/or discrimination Michael Sam may face based on being an African American gay man in a high-profile sport. Athletes as a whole have to face prejudice and have been a group that has been oppressed and discriminated against. And within the athlete culture, individuals will also face heterosexism, sexism and racism — to name a few that Michael Sam will not be immune from.

Crethar: I see the brave, pioneering and important step that Michael Sam has taken in coming out as … key to highlighting an issue of the need to continue battling for equitable treatment of all people in our society. Sam’s announcement comes at a time when views on homosexuality and same-sex marriage have been undergoing huge changes of their own. In the past decade, 16 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have allowed same-sex marriage, including seven in 2013 alone. For the first time last year, a majority of Americans (51 percent) said they favored same-sex marriage, according to a Pew survey. As counseling professionals, we need to understand that life contexts are key variables in the ethical treatment of all those we serve. It is therefore imperative that all counselors stand for equitable access to rights and privileges of people of all affectional orientations.

 

What positives and what negatives might come out of this announcement, for society and for Michael Sam?

Tinsley: The positives that have come out from this announcement is the identification of individuals and groups who exhibit genuine, nonjudgmental and empathic approaches and behaviors. Additional positives include an outpouring of the ethic of love and acceptance of Michael Sam as a person from both heterosexual individuals and individuals who identify as gay and lesbian.

As stated above, the negative that may come out, and has already come out, is the negative messages, prejudice, oppression and discrimination from a portion of our homophobic society.

Crethar: When [college football’s] Southeastern Conference Defensive Lineman of the Year Michael Sam made the public announcement that he is gay, it was met with immediate and positive response that was nearly universal. Numerous teammates from the University of Missouri, leadership within his university, a number of NFL players and the head of the NFL Players Association all shared public support of Sam’s choice to come out, as well as emphasized his welcome amongst NFL players. The only real exception to the warm response came from anonymous coaches, scouts and general managers. Sam’s case is a clear reminder that despite rapidly advancing cultural acceptance of diversity in affectional orientation, workplace bigotry continues to endure. This highlights the need for a federal employment nondiscrimination act to be passed. A large majority of Americans believe lesbians and gays face between “some” and “a lot” of discrimination in the workplace (Pew Research Center).

Michael Sam’s choice to enter the draft openly gay does break ground by directly and publicly confronting and highlighting the ongoing existence of workplace discrimination for people of varying affectional orientation. With the rapid advance of marriage equality in the U.S. and around the globe, it isn’t shocking that a segment of our society continues to focus on how Sam’s orientation will purportedly disturb “the heartbeat of the locker room,” cause “distractions” for his team and even may not be “manly enough” for a football player. Sam’s strong and effective play on the football field and with his team who had known of his orientation for a year negate these opinions.

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Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at bbray@counseling.org.

Follow Counseling Today on Twitter @ACA_CTonline