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Michael Sam has place in NFL after coming out

Viewpoints Editor

Published: Monday, February 10, 2014

Updated: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 00:02

Michael Sam

AP Photo/Brandon Wade, File

Missouri senior defensive lineman Michael Sam speaks to the media during an NCAA college football news conference in Irving, Texas. Sam says he is gay, and he could become the first openly homosexual player in the NFL.

Does coming out hurt Sam's chances?

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“I'm Michael Sam. I'm a college graduate. I'm African American, and I'm gay.” With the last two words, NFL draft prospect and All-American defensive end Sam took potentially the greatest risk an NFL prospect could take in the lead up to the draft.

Based on skill alone, he should be among the approximately 250 players selected in the May draft. Unfortunately his public revelation has already produced eye-rollingly predictable cries of “distraction” and “bad locker room chemistry” from several anonymous front office personnel who wouldn’t dare out themselves as homophobic concern trolls by going on the record with ESPN, The New York Times or Sports Illustrated.

One anonymous general manager said in an article in Sports Illustrated, “I am sorry to say where we are at this point in time, I think it’s going to affect most locker rooms. A lot of guys will be uncomfortable.” This revelation must have been news to Sam’s teammates at Mizzou, who learned of his homosexuality prior to the start of the 2013 season.

In the SEC coaches preseason poll, Missouri was predicted to finish sixth in the SEC East. Thanks in large part to Sam’s big gay distraction, the team went 12-2, winning the division.

As a high school senior from Hitchcock, Texas, he was muscular but lean at 6’3” and 225 pounds. A few FBS schools recruited him including Houston, Iowa State, Colorado State and Missouri, which would eventually secure his commitment.

After a redshirt year and two seasons as a situational player, Sam emerged as a starter his junior season, though his statistical contributions were limited. He came out to his teammates prior to the start of his senior year, and from his own account they were accepting of his sexuality, despite the fact that they were football players who, according to anonymous NFL GMs, are bigoted assholes who simply will not accept a gay man into their locker room.

Sam was a consensus All-American and SEC co-defensive player of the year, leading the conference with 11.5 sacks. He also added some muscle during his time at Mizzou and weighs 260 pounds, according to the university’s media guide.

All that being said, barring some freakshow workout numbers at the combine and Missouri’s pro day, Sam probably wasn’t going to be a first round pick. He’s smallish for an NFL defensive end and didn’t produce elite stats until his senior campaign. Though it’s early in the process, most draft analysts had him pegged somewhere in the middle of the draft prior to his announcement.

Despite this, the same anonymous GM from the SI article insisted that Sam won’t be drafted and offered up a reason other than cowardice and bigotry from NFL front offices.

“First of all, we don’t think he’s a very good player. The reality is he’s an overrated football player in our estimation,” the GM said.

Thus begins the subterfuge. If Sam goes undrafted, look for a litany of reasons other than his homosexuality to emerge. Saying he’s too small for the NFL conveniently ignores pass rushers like Dwight Freeney, Whitney Mercilus, Robert Quinn, Elvis Dumervil, Robert Mathis, DeMarcus Ware and Trent Cole who have succeeded in the NFL while being around Sam’s size.

Saying that his homosexuality is some amorphous “distraction” runs contrary to guys like Manti Te’o (imaginary girlfriend), Tim Tebow (media circus due to his very public faith), Janoris Jenkins (marijuana possession and kicked off of Florida’s team), and Tyrann Mathieu (failed drug tests, marijuana possession and kicked off of LSU’s team), who were drafted despite a history of off the field distractions during their college careers.

Speaking of distractions, both Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin both took to Twitter to come to Sam’s defensein the aftermath of his revelation. You’ll remember that Martin walked out on the Miami Dolphins earlier this season due to incessant bullying from Incognito. If anyone knows about the intolerance of an NFL locker room, it’s those two.

Both tweeted that what Sam did took “guts” and commended him for his candor. Had either of them stayed mum on the issue, it would have been pointless to read into it. However, the fact that these two men, from opposite ends of the NFL locker room bullying spectrum, encouraged the prospect means that there’s little chance of endless acrimony from future teammates. Once Sam dons the uniform his fellow players will quickly be able to make character assessments without the lens of his homosexuality.

If Sam runs a 5.5 40-yard dash at the combine, can’t do one bench press rep at 225 pounds and scores a zero on the Wonderlich aptitude test, then he doesn’t deserve to play in the NFL.

This is unlikely.

If he finishes around the middle of the pack on the physical metrics at the combine and his pro day, then he deserves to play on Sundays, regardless of who he wakes up next to on Mondays.

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Wed Feb 12 2014 12:07
While I agree with your ultimate premise that if he is physically capable of performing at a high level then he deserves to play, there are some serious logic gaps as to how you got there. One of the predominant reasons that there wasn't a chemistry issue at Mizzou was because he came out after he had already been on the team for 4 years. His teammates already knew him and the kind of person he was. That makes it much easier to accept him. As far as what you refer to as his "big gay distraction" it wasn't existent because the media didn't know about it. He was still in the closet publicly so there was no media circus to cause a distraction. Finally, comparing his situation to others like Manti Te'o is insane. This is a much larger discussion. Te'o's situation affected him alone. Yes, there was certainly a ton of press coverage of the event but it was in no way, shape, or form a social issue. Same for everyone else you listed. Sam is the face of a much larger social issue. The attention he is going to get is going to be completely different for anyone else.
Also, it is incredibly sloppy journalism to say that if he goes undrafted it is because of subterfuge. 3 out of the 6 players you tried to compare him to were freak athletes and were first round picks (Ware, Mercilus, and Freeney), which he was never going to be. The other three had to bust their butts to make it, even without all of the added pressure that Sam now faces. It isn't subterfuge to suggest that a guy who there was already physical concerns about and now faces this is something that a lot of teams wouldn't want to deal with it.
If Michael Sam makes it in the NFL, it will be because he truly earned it, which obviously everyone hopes he does. However, articles like this trying to support him but using awful logic don't do him any favors

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