University of Missouri – Columbia’s football player and defensive end Michael Sam came out to a national audience after his ESPN, New York Times interview on Sunday.
Sam’s announcement shook the National Football League and the world because if drafted by an NFL team, he will be the first openly gay, active player in the league.
The ensuing reactions from professional athletes and students from Mizzou were overall positive (Take a look at this snow tribute made for Michael Sam at the university). Even NFL bad boy Richie Incognito offered his support to Sam.
But obviously everyone didn’t take lightly to Sam’s revelations. A Sports Illustrated article pointed out that eight NFL executives and coaches called Sam’s announcement “not a smart move.”
Sam, whose draft ranking was predicted to finish above 110, ended up with a ranking of 160 as of Monday.
It’s also important to note that Michael Sam played defensive end in college and will have to adjust to playing a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense. In the former, Michael is said to not have the instincts at linebacker and that it would take time and resources for him to change positions. In the latter, scouts say Michael is too undersized to succeed. However, we should keep in mind that players like defensive end Dwight Freeney, quarterback Russell Wilson, wideout Wes Welker and linebacker Brian Urlacher all succeeded (and continue to) in the NFL for many years. They were all considered undersized. Also, Michael Sam is 6-2, 260 pounds.
The bottom line is, there will be teams that won’t draft Sam no matter what while other teams will be waiting as long as possible and playing the odds game in an attempt to grab a pretty good player at a cheap price.
More than anything, a team with the league’s worst defense in the Dallas Cowboys could use a player like Michael Sam, defensive player of the year in the college football’s toughest conference — the SEC. Hell, the Cowboys could use some peewee football players with the path their headed in (disgruntled Dallas fan here, if you can’t tell).
Critics also said Michael Sam’s draft stock would also fall because there are players in the league that aren’t ready to deal with the situation “maturity-wise.”
Former Colts coach Herm Edwards also added to the sentiment of those outspoken NFL representatives by saying that Sam’s gayness would be a distraction in locker rooms as it would bring too much “baggage.”
Former NFL player Dante Stallworth rebutted the critics with multiple tweets on Monday telling NFL teams that if they can’t deal with what may seem like adversity ahead of time, how can they ever expect to deal with the unknown? Basically, Stallworth wrote that if a team can’t deal with the media frenzy that will be sure to follow Sam months before the season starts, how can they possible deal with situations like those of former NFL players Josh Brent and Aaron Hernandez?
Michael Sam’s choice to come out two weeks before the NFL Combine is a major life decision. To say that his decision is selfish is to not understand what is at stake for Michael. If there was no risk involved, many active professional athletes would be coming out, but they’re not.
Sam’s agents and publicist helped him through the process by preparing him to deal with the media and the various questions that would be hurled his way. The main thing they agreed on was that Sam should refer to himself as a football player first then a gay athlete.
Critics of Sam’s decision often accuse him of putting himself ahead of football with remarks like “Do you really want to be the top of the conversation for everything without ever having played a down?” But if Sam and his team of agents and publicist can realize that football comes first, why is it so difficult for some NFL representatives to support Michael, acknowledge his situation and move forward? Are they the ones struggling to put football ahead of Sam’s orientation?
It will be harder to use the argument of Sam being selfish and being a locker room distraction when we’ve seen an positive example of how a team can succeed when knowing of Sam’s orientation. That example is the Mizzou Tigers. They arguable had one of their best seasons ever in the toughest conference in college football. What will that mean for the NFL if a group of college-aged men can show the world an example of how to treat people and succeed on the national stage, while some within NFL still struggle with the thought of having an openly gay man on their team?