Until the draft is done with, the subject will be debated over and over again: where will Michael Sam end up going? The answer isn’t very easy because of a multitude of factors, such as teams’ readiness to deal with the attention that comes with drafting the first openly gay player. But most importantly, it depends on Michael Sam’s talent level. Mike Mayock, the NFL’s uncontested scouting guru, weighed in on Sam, saying that he was a 3rd to 5th round draft pick. His frame doesn’t make him a prototypical defensive end, but his skill set doesn’t necessarily allow him to play linebacker either. What he does have is an unshakeable motor and belief in himself, which is definitely going to serve Sam well as he steps into the unknown world of being an openly gay player in the NFL. But above all that, when the appropriate time comes to draft Michael Sam, there should be no reason for teams not to do so. There are no character red flags, no off-the-field issues with him. So instead of finding reasons not to draft him, here are a few why no team should pass on Michael Sam.
4. He’s a Fearless Trailblazer
If ever there were a time to be afraid of coming out in the NFL, it would be now. With the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito scandal still at the forefront of the football world’s mind, it would be understandable for players to doubt just how secure and accepting an NFL locker room actually is. Not only that, but also many NFL franchises are located in more conservative areas of the United States. However, Sam told the press that he had revealed to his teammates that he was gay before the 2013 season kicked off, and the news supposedly leaked out to the University of Missouri student body. If Michael Sam found a way to survive as an openly gay man in a mid-western university, he should be able to pull it off in the NFL. The way Sam has been able to come out with such eloquence, poise and fearlessness is amazing. Very few young men have this kind of courage and character, the likes of which any NFL team would want.
3. Immediate Franchise Recognition
Above all, professional football is a business. Some teams may value Michael Sam’s football talent, but they may also value very highly the image he would bring to the franchise that drafts him. Any team to draft the first openly gay NFL player is bound to benefit from new audiences, but is also sure to be seen in a different light. Take for example the MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers. After allowing Jackie Robinson to become the first black player to play in the majors, the Dodgers found themselves elevated to a new level in the baseball world. The mystique and legend of the Dodgers is founded upon those early title runs, that’s a given. But the fact that they broke down the skin color barrier was huge in terms of their place in the baseball hierarchy.
Drafting Michael Sam is bound to see whichever team does it benefit from the same sort of image. Now don’t get me wrong, we’re not putting segregation and racial prejudice in the same category as homosexual acceptance. It’s apples and oranges. But in both cases, a sort of social malaise is being confronted. On a broader level, Michael Sam’s debut in the NFL is bound to begin a change of culture in the league, something it desperately needs. Hopefully this will encourage athletes in other big professional sports to come out.
2. Low Risk, High Ceiling
As Mike Mayock put it, the 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year is a 3rd to 5th round talent. In other words, he’s a low cost, long-term investment. The 6’2’’, 260 lb LB/DE is bound to go at a later time, and is bound to go cheap. However, you don’t accumulate 11.5 sacks in the toughest conference in the country without a minimum of talent. Teams that put a premium on development with strong organizational structure will be inclined to take him, and develop him into what he can ultimately be. Organizations like the New England Patriots or the Green Bay Packers have come up as good fits for the former Tiger. With defensive systems that fit him, and strong organizations ready to go through a media firestorm (remember Aaron Hernandez?), those would be two very good fits. However, with his combine results in Indianapolis, question marks keep on popping up. After running a 4.91 on his forty-yard dash, and only putting up 17 reps at 225 lbs., Sam was unimpressive to say the least. With poor results like these, Sam will need to improve many folds at his Pro Day in order to try and convince a team to take a chance on him.
1. He’s A Pro
From his work ethic to the mental part of his game, Michael Sam is an undeniable pro football player. During his first press conference at the combine in Indianapolis, he said he would try and answer anybody’s questions. What he did was answer all the questions he was asked. He hasn’t shied away from who he is, and he hasn’t tried to hide anything about it. He has taken on one of the biggest elephants in the room, and has done it all with class. Even more impressive is that he was able to have his most productive season and lead his college team to a Bowl game victory as an openly gay man amongst his teammates. Remind me again how that could be a disruptive announcement in a football locker room? This being said, there were bound to be confrontations over the subject, but the end result just goes to show how mentally tough and smart Michael Sam really is.
Although he is surely proud of what he is doing and how he is doing it, Michael Sam probably despises the fact that he is being labeled a gay football player instead of just a football player. His resentment doesn’t come from personal insecurity, but rather from the fact that his sexual preference has no reason to be in his title. Odds are that 10 years from now we will be looking back at this and telling ourselves: ‘‘did we really make this a big deal?’’ Some may say that this article only adds fuel to the fire, but this writer felt strongly that the bigotry that’s out there needed to be fought with some common sense. But if there’s something I think we all just really want for Michael Sam, is for him to have an extraordinary career without any kind of an asterisk next to his accomplishments.