Michael Sam has proven on the football field that he’s ready to play with the best. Missouri’s All-American defensive lineman is coming off his best season yet. He led the SEC, which is considered by many as the most dominant conference, in sacking the quarterback and tackles for loss. He’s big, puts up the numbers, and has the ability to strengthen any defense he plays for. Why wouldn’t he be drafted?
In an interview with ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” Sam stated, “I am an openly, proud gay man.”
Sam is poised to become the first openly-gay active professional football player and was projected as a mid-to-late round draft pick in this year’s draft, before the interview.
He explains in his interview how he approached his Missouri football team with his sexual orientation. During preseason training camp, his coach had each player introduce to the team who they were, a little about their journey to Missouri and something that the rest of the team doesn’t know about them.
Sam decided to take that opportunity to express his sexual orientation to his team and had no regrets from then on. His team rallied around him in full support accepting him for his courage and honesty. Sam didn’t face any major problems, and tells ESPN that he couldn’t have been surrounded by a more supportive and amazing football program.
His interview quickly went viral as it was breaking news in the sports world, Sam has received a lot of support, including a statement released by the NFL. He also received several tweets from both former and active athletes admiring his confidence. The sports world seems to have accepted Sam’s decision on being openly gay and that he hasn’t faced any major obstacles yet.
There is no question that this is going to drop him down in the draft. When you look at it from a franchise point-of-view, do you really want to be the team to “break the barrier?” Most teams will not.
The general managers may not be against gay players, but some players in the locker room might look at it differently. It will create a sense of inbalance in the locker room and every media station will be knocking on doors just to ask about the chemistry of the team. This is a big responsibility to take on. The team that drafts Sam will undoubtedly receive more preseason attention than any other team.
Many head coaches were replaced in this offseason and some teams have first-year NFL head coaches. Don’t expect any of those teams to take a chance with drafting Sam. A rookie head coach already has a plate full of scrutiny as he tries to figure out the formula to success. The addition of Sam would be too overwhelming.
Sam’s draft stock has been lowered and so is his potential earnings. Teams aren’t going to fork out a huge contract and sign him under a multi-millionaire dollar salary, especially if they are unsure of the effect he will potentially have.
There is no doubt that Sam can strengthen a team and put them in a better position to win games when he is on the gridiron. However, there is so much more to being a professional athlete than the statistics you can produce. Opposing fans are cruel and will do or say anything that might get into the player’s mind in order to give their team the advantage. Sam will be a living target of fan-to-player trash talk and will hear the meanest words to ever be directed towards him.
All of this will play into effect come draft day but I wouldn’t conclude that Sam will be left without a spot on a NFL roster by the end of the draft. When it comes down to it, coaches want to win. Sam can make a lot of teams better who might be struggling stopping the ground game. He is a monster on the outside of the defensive line and quick enough to be made into an outside linebacker.
There are some teams with veteran coaches who would be able to handle the pressure that Sam will bring. Green Bay, San Francisco and Baltimore are three teams with experienced rosters and coaches. They would be among the top teams to take him.
Whether Sam drops in his draft stock or earns less money in the years to come, at least he will be able to comfortably sleep at night. He strongly believes that the way he has handled things was for the best, saying he is comfortable in his own skin.
Sam’s life has changed forever and he is ready to see what the future holds, telling ESPN, “I’m not afraid to tell the world who I am. I’m Michael Sam: I’m a college graduate. I’m African-American and I’m gay.”