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NFL prospect Michael Sam may be the first football player to come into the league openly gay. This ties in nicely with our theme these week: coming out of the closet at work.

Why is it so important to come out at work?

Who you are is integrated into who you love and who you spend time with outside of work. So many people say it’s not relevant whether you’re gay or not at work, but the truth is, keeping your status under the radar impedes your workflow.

It’s a constant distraction, the whole tiptoeing around the issue, the avoidance of the subject. “Is he or isn’t he” and “is she or isn’t she” and “can I talk about my same sex partner or not.”

Distraction on both ends only decreases productivity and keeps everyone from doing their best. Meaning, less chances at a promotion and poorer overall company performance.

The worry with Michael Sam is that any team that takes him will suffer the consequence of a media shitstorm. The supposed conversation is going to go something like: “Congrats, [star quarterback], how does it feel to win? Oh, and by the way, how does it feel to have a gay teammate?”

It’s going to dominate conversations, and any team that takes him on will take on his load of baggage.

At least, that’s one side of the argument. But who doesn’t bring baggage to the workplace? Who among us doesn’t have something that’s twisting us up inside?

Donte Stallworth, a retired NFL receiver, said some wise words on the subject: if, as a coach or player, you’re distracted by the fact that there is someone gay on the team, it’s over for you. The fact that you’re not good enough on the field as to be sidetracked by media scrutiny says something about your skill as a player.

It’s the same on the job. When the new gay employee comes into work and you start obsessing over the fact that they’re gay, you’ve already lost. You’re stuck in the last century, and your workflow suffers.

You want to be the amazing leader pulling people into the 21st century.

If you’re gay and afraid of coming out of the closet, a good majority of the time (we’re going to say 90%), you’re exaggerating the reactions you’re going to get. In fact, telling your boss before you’re even officially hired is ideal, rather than waiting to “prove yourself” in a straight light before coming out.

The sooner you can breathe easier, the sooner you can start working more productively.

And for those in the presence of a gay co-worker for the first time, here are five things you should never say to them after they come out (thanks to DiversityInc for the ideas):

1)  Oh, I knew you were gay!

2)  We’re not close enough for you to share that information with me.

3)  Are you the guy or the girl in bed?

4)  Has life has been difficult?

5)  Which bathroom do you use?

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