It’s Gay Week in the NFL. Michael Sam, 24, will be auditioning at the NFL Scouting Combine starting Saturday. As anyone with a TV or internet access knows, Michael Sam is gay. He came out on February 14, choosing the ESPN program Outside the Lines as mainstream backdrop.
Sam is 6-foot-1, 255 pounds, played defensive end for the University of Missouri in 2013. He was dubbed SEC Co-defensive Player of the Year. Named first-team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association and the Football Writers Association of America.
Sam made 11½ sacks in 2013. Saying that, three were against lightly regarded Arkansas State, three against lightly regarded Vanderbilt, three against lightly regarded Florida. Scouts have noted that he recorded an anemic half-sack over the last six regular season games.
The consensus is that Sam is a third-, more likely, a fourth-round draft pick. Generally speaking, each NFL draft round has 32 picks, so the fourth round would start at pick 97 and end at pick 128. ESPN has Sam down as the 119th draft pick. CBS Sports has him at 110. Fox Sports 93. NFLcountdown.com at 81.
For these kinds of questions I go to a bookie for unbiased opinion. According to Bovada, an online sportsbook, the over/under on Sam’s draft position is 125.5, near the end of the fourth round.
Sports Illustrated hack Peter King has a widely reprinted quote from a unnamed NFL general manager: “The question you will ask yourself, knowing your team, is, ‘How will drafting him affect your locker room?’ And 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. Ten years from now, fine. But today, I think being openly gay is a factor in the locker room.”
It’s always about the locker room. Let one gay guy in the locker room, and a 280-pound supermasculine lineman, a beer-drinking, bar-fighting, head-thumping, 300-pound-bench-pressing beast of a man will be looking over his shoulder, terrified he’ll catch a gay teammate reconnoitering his penis. If gay guy is caught, the lineman will, presumably, shriek and squeal.
What makes this story intriguing is that there are legitimate, nonhomophobic concerns about Sam as an NFL player. Ex–Boston Globe beat writer, current Sports Illustrated senior writer, Greg A. Bedard recently watched 12 games Missouri played last year. Follows are some of his takes: “Missouri’s defense has better players than Sam.... It could be argued that Sam is the fourth-best pass rush prospect on the Tigers. He lacks pass rush moves. He doesn’t have an obvious NFL position.... Looked below average against the run.... His most successful path to long-term NFL employment could be as a developmental prospect via the practice squad.... No better than a mid-to late-round pick. He could go undrafted. To my eyes Sam is decidedly average, with nothing exceptional about his game.”
There will be people lining up behind Sam because they believe in gay equality; others will be against him because they don’t. Pretty soon it’s not about football.
And then there are NFL politics. The league has come down hard on welcoming Sam. The NFL issued a statement: “We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage. Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”
One thing, Sam hasn’t been drafted yet. Which is not the point; the point is players and coaches got the message. Early on there were a few negative comments, but since the league’s pronouncement it’s been all Sam love out of NFL world. Might be genuine, I don’t know. That’s what I like about this story. We don’t know.
The more interesting question is, what if Sam doesn’t get drafted? Every team can find a good reason why they didn’t draft him — they needed help in other positions, blah, blah, blah. But, if every team passes, I don’t think the collection of excuses, however believable any one of them might be, would fly.
In that case, who would be the villain? How could you pin not drafting Sam on any one team?
No need to wait until September, there is Gay Football in San Diego right now. To wit: the San Diego American Flag Football League. The league “...hopes to provide an outlet for the general public to interact with and see Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Allied persons outside of the stereotypical settings.” SDAFFL fields 18 teams, its 2014 season begins March 1. Stop by sdaffl.com for particulars.