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There has never been an openly gay player in the National Football League. That will likely change in this year's draft, as Michael Sam, DE from Missouri and probably a mid-round talent, has announced he is gay.
I rather doubt that is unknown news to anyone today, because since he made the public announcement, it has been the biggest story in sports, eclipsing even the Winter Olympic games. As much as we might like to keep politics and controversy separate from our enjoyment of pro football, they have now been thrust upon us. The issues surrounding homosexuality and society at large are still being resolved, sometimes successfully, and other times not so much (see the above mentioned Winter Olympics and recent legislation outlawing homosexuality within Russia).
I won't go into a great deal of detail on the Sam story, since it has already been covered quite well by our SBN sister site Outsports, which not only played a large role in the initial announcement, but has a detailed and nuanced look at why the announcement was made, and why it was made now (and which is being cited by journalists everywhere). I will just say that, in my personal opinion, Sam made a courageous, smart, and overdue move, and I wish him a very successful NFL career, wherever he winds up. (And how can you not like a guy that did this at the Senior Bowl?)
So what does this mean for Sam? A player who was seen as a mid- to late-round pick to begin with, he was already slipping a bit after the Senior Bowl. However, the lack of effectiveness may have been attributable to the fact he was in the middle of trying to figure out exactly when to make his announcement, aggravated by the fact that it was becoming clear that a lot of media members had an idea of what was going on. The big topic, especially on social media, is just how the announcement affects his draft status. Will it push him down, because some NFL GMs and/or staff are still uncomfortable with the idea of gay players? Or, will most take the approach of Bob Kraft of the New England Patriots?
Robert Kraft told @BuckinBoston he’s spoken to Belichick in the past about having an openly gay player: "Anyone who can help us win."— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 10, 2014
In a sense, the issue is not gay players in the NFL. It is admitting that there are gay players in one of the most masculine, testosterone-drenched sports in the world. Former players have come out. And it is certain that there are some on rosters right now.
Just a bit of food for thought. Our friend Birddog26 works closely, in a couple of different capacities, with two NFL franchises. One of them is the Dallas Cowboys. He also communicates with a lot of scouts from other teams. But he knows Dallas and one other franchise very, very well.
Sam is the first, but there will be more. He is likely to open the door for others. But this is not necessarily going to be a smooth transition. It should be, but there are clear indications that there will be bumps in the road.
Anonymous NFL GM's already laying groundwork to pass on Michael Sam in the draft. 1 GM said NFL wasn't ready for gay players for 20 more yrs— Matt Murphy (@MattMurph24) February 10, 2014
And it's not just the old, rich white guys who own the teams and their minions that see problems with the situation. Patrick Crayton, a former Cowboy, addressed the issue that is more upsetting for many teams than how Sam would fit into the locker room.
On Monday, Crayton joined 105.3 The Fan [KRLD-FM] to discuss his comments, which included a tweet saying: "Oh wow!!! There goes the NFL!"
Crayton said he sent that tweet because "it's no longer an issue about whether he can play or not. Now it becomes a social issue about should more guys come out, versus him being the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, they're saying that with a little subtitle. The next thing is: First openly gay player possibly in the NFL.
"Now he's got to deal with all the questions about his sexual orientation versus his football play."
That is the problem, and it is likely a real one. But teams can overlook an awful lot if they think you can play.
Sam is not a superstar. A talented player with what appears to be a relentless motor, but he is also a better fit in the 3-4 defense than in a 4-3. While he has a chance to impress at the NFL Draft Combine, he may be fated to be somewhere in the second hundred players taken. Based on evaluations I have seen, he is most likely a late third or fourth round option for 3-4 teams, and a fifth or sixth round type player for teams like the Cowboys.
No matter where he is eventually picked (and I would be flabbergasted if the SEC co-defensive player of the year was not selected), there will be accusations that he would have gone higher than if he had not come out. And that is just the start of things. Wherever he goes, there is going to a crush of media at that team's headquarters, and it will probably reach a fever pitch during training camp, when all the controversial stories seem to be more prominent. Whoever is the owner or GM of that team is going to be faced with more microphones every day than any other team in the league. It is hard to find someone who is going to welcome and embrace that kind of unending media attention, and who will truly give a green light to the staff to draft Sam if he is a good option from a talent standpoint.
Well, unless you are the Dallas Cowboys, of course.
I don't know offhand what Jerry Jones thinks about gay people in general. But I do know that Jones is the biggest celebrity among the league's owners, and he has no hesitation about hobnobbing with other celebrities. I have a sneaking suspicion he has already come to accept the gay community, at least better than most of his fellow owners. I can't confirm that, of course. It is more of an educated guess.
Personal beliefs aside, I think Jones would see Sam as a marketing bonanza. The spotlight on the Cowboys, already one of the brightest in all sports, if not the brightest of all, would just get stronger. There would be even more interest in the games, both on TV and to attend live. And I predict that Michael Sam jerseys are going to become one of the hottest sellers, if not number one in the league, as wearing it becomes a statement of support for the overarching issue of opportunity and fair treatment of gays.
It is a lousy reason to select a player. But a great reason to make sure you don't reject him.
While everyone is focusing on the problems that Sam may create, I prefer to look at the positives. First and foremost, we finally get this issue handled. Not perfectly, and not without errors and missteps, but at last we can quit acting like there are no gay players in NFL locker rooms. If nothing else, it allows some people to be more honest about who they are, and that in itself is a good reason to move forward with this. It is likely to help the league expand its audience at least a little, and it will certainly improve its image with some who now see it as the refuge of troglodytes and mouth-breathers. I don't see any real loss of support from current fans coming, because this will be a small number of players in the most team-oriented of sports (and there is ample evidence of the flaming heterosexuality of many, many NFL players). I think Sam will be a good, solid player for someone, and if that team handles it correctly, he will be an asset in many other ways. The league needs to make sure he is the same for all of the NFL.
And, at last, it will start the process of getting beyond all this. I was going to put something like this in my article, but why try to improve on something so well written?
What I finally realized today after the Michael Sam story: pic.twitter.com/5fkYQmtdOz— Shan Shariff (@NewSchoolSS) February 10, 2014
At some time in the future (hopefully very soon), most will wonder what all the fuss was about. Gay football players will just be football players. Good ones will succeed. That is how it should be.
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