Michael Sam came out over the weekend, and if he winds up playing for an NFL team, he will be the first openly gay player in the NFL. He'll also be the first active, "out" player in any of the traditional four major sports leagues in America.
The prevailing attitude seems to be "good for him, but do we have to make a big deal about this?" As long as we have anonymous quotes from scouts and general managers that indicate that Sam might see a dip in his draft stock because of the "distraction" he could pose to locker rooms, yeah, we should probably spend some time talking about it.
Yes, NFL clubs tolerate sexual assault, DUI, domestic violence, etc. yet the "distraction" of Sam will give some, not all, pause.— Andrew Brandt (@adbrandt) February 10, 2014
Distraction is the most overused term in the NFL, frankly. I think you'll find that most locker rooms in the NFL will give the guy a chance to prove himself as a player. If he's great, there won't be problems, and if he's not, he'll find himself on the street within a couple of years. There will always be players who will have a problem with having Sam in the locker room, but what DeAngelo Williams said on Sunday largely rings true.
I could care less about a man's sexual preference! i care about winning games and being respectful in the locker room!— DeAngelo Williams (@DeAngeloRB) February 10, 2014
The larger issue is that there are NFL teams with hundreds of millions of dollars, bulletproof sources of income and plenty of public goodwill who will shrink from drafting a gay player because it might be a distraction. Some of those same teams will take chances on players who have been convicted of manslaughter and domestic abuse, as Brandt notes above. If the guy can play and you're not willing to give him a shot, then your organization is cowardly beyond belief.
Michael Sam coming out isn't going to change the trajectory of Western civilization. It's not going to transform the lives of Americans, gay or otherwise, though I have a few friends who will be pretty thrilled. If it makes it so that NFL players who are gay—and there are plenty, I assure you—feel comfortable living their lives out of the shadows, and so that a few years from now we don't preface any discussion of Sam or others with "gay football player" then that's a big enough impact.
I don't want to spend a ton of time on the stock debate beyond what I've written above, because frankly I get tired of every single human moment being swallowed by the mechanics of the draft. Suffice to say that Sam is not an elite prospect, so anywhere from the fourth to the sixth round would not be a true drop in his stock. If he goes undrafted this May, then something has gone wrong. In a league where Kerry Rhodes couldn't seem to get a contract at all last season, it's fair to be suspicious about that outcome, but I'm willing to wait and see what happens.
The biggest question for us is, will the Falcons be interested in Sam? There's many reasons to think that the team will be, starting with his position (defensive end/linebacker), the fact that the team saw him up close and personal in the Senior Bowl and (like it or don't) the many people willing to rave about his character. He's far from an immediate impact starter for any team, but the Falcons need to add a player at linebacker, and Sam could be a logical choice. He's been on my radar for a while now, but obviously this announcement has given us a chance to talk about him a little earlier.
Again, this won't be a first three rounds kind of pick. Sam gets the dreaded "stiff" label at times and struggles in pursuit, with a fairly limited set of pass rushing moves that mean he'll likely need to be coached up. Any team bringing him into the fold will be looking to have him contribute on special teams in year one, get limited snaps on defense and hope he'll develop into something special down the line. The Falcons, with their need for more quality players at linebacker, do seem to be a natural fit.
What do you think? Will Sam wind up in Atlanta?