N.F.L. Draft Prospect Michael Sam Comes Out As Gay
Michael Sam is gay.It didn't matter to his University of Missouri teammates. Will it matter to the NFL?
University of Missouri Defensive Lineman Michael Sam, who was named Defensive Player Of The Year by the Associated Press and is expected to be a top prospect in the mid-levels of the N.F.L. Draft, has publicly come out of the closet:
Coaches at the University of Missouri divided players into small groups at a preseason football practice last year for a team-building exercise. One by one, players were asked to talk about themselves — where they grew up, why they chose Missouri and what others might not know about them.
As Michael Sam, a defensive lineman, began to speak, he balled up a piece of paper in his hands. “I’m gay,” he said. With that, Mr. Sam set himself on a path to become the first publicly gay player in the National Football League.
“I looked in their eyes, and they just started shaking their heads — like, finally, he came out,” Mr. Sam said Sunday in an interview with The New York Times, the first time he had spoken publicly about his sexual orientation.
Mr. Sam, a senior who was listed at 6 feet 2 inches and 260 pounds, had a stellar season as Missouri finished 12-2 and won the Cotton Bowl. He was a first-team all-American and was named the Associated Press defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference, widely considered the top league in college football. Teammates voted him Missouri’s most valuable player.
Now Mr. Sam enters an uncharted area of the sports landscape. He is making his public declaration before he is drafted, to the potential detriment to his professional career. And he is doing so as he prepares to enter a league with an overtly macho culture, where controversies over homophobia have attracted recent attention.
As the pace of the gay rights movement has accelerated in recent years, the sports industry has changed relatively little for men, with no publicly gay athletes in the N.F.L., the N.B.A., the N.H.L. or Major League Baseball. Against this backdrop, Mr. Sam could become a symbol for the country’s gay rights movement or a flash point in a football culture war — or both.
Mr. Sam, 24, is projected to be chosen in the early rounds of the N.F.L. draft in May, ordinarily a path to a prosperous pro career. He said he decided to come out publicly now because he sensed that rumors were circulating.
“I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” said Mr. Sam, who also spoke with ESPN on Sunday. “I just want to own my truth.”
But the N.F.L. presents the potential for unusual challenges. In the past year or so, it has been embroiled in controversies ranging from antigay statements from players to reports that scouts asked at least one prospective player if he liked girls. Recently, Chris Kluwe, a punter, said that he was subject to homophobic language from coaches and pushed out of a job with the Minnesota Vikings because he vocally supported same-sex marriage laws. And last week, Jonathan Vilma, a New Orleans Saints linebacker, said in an interview with NFL Network that he did not want a gay teammate.
“I think he would not be accepted as much as we think he would be accepted,” said Mr. Vilma, a 10-year league veteran.
In a statement Sunday night, the league said: “We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage. Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the N.F.L. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”
On paper, Sam seems like the kind of player that a team looking to beef up its Defensive Line would be willing to pick up, and it’s entirely possible that this will indeed happen. At the same time, though, there’s no denying that by making this announcement before the draft, Sam has placed immense pressure on the NFL and on the teams. If he ends up not being drafted at all, then the story will be about whether or not he was passed over because he’s gay. If he is drafted, as he probably should be, then both he and the team that selects him will be the focus of unrelenting media attention for being the first openly gay player in the NFL, indeed the first openly gay player in a major American team sport. How that will play out on the field and off is going to be a huge unknown factor.
Sports Illustrated offers this preview of how things may go for Sam:
I spoke to four club officials Sunday—three general managers, one scout—and the reaction to a third-round prospect being gay ran the gamut. I spoke to all anonymously, because with such a touchy subject, I assumed all would either no-comment me (and one other GM did) or say something so sanitized it wouldn’t really be the truth. I don’t like to do anonymous sources to write an entire story, but I felt in this case it would give the best information possible.
“Should I really care?” one GM said. “Is it going to be that big a deal? Aren’t we beyond this?”
“It’s not a shocking thing to me, and it won’t be to our organization,” another GM said. “You’ll have old-school guys on your team saying, ‘Are you kidding, putting this guy on our team?’ And you’ll have other guys say, ‘Who cares? I knew two gay guys who came out in college.’ “
“It’ll totally depend on your leadership,” the scout said. “A team with strong leadership at coach and in the locker room, like New England, I would imagine, would be okay. I could see Belichick say, ‘This is the way it is. There’s no story.’ And guys would just accept him. There’d be no choice. But without that strong leadership, I could see it being divisive, and I could see a team saying, ‘We don’t need this.’ “
Two team reps didn’t know the story when we spoke, with me not naming names and simply asking what would happen if, as I expected, a gay player would be coming out before the combine. One GM said he’d heard that Sam might be the player. But the fourth, a general manager, said he not only knew the story and that Sam was the player, but that his team had discussed it at draft meetings in the past few days.
“We talked about it this week,” the GM said. “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. Second: He’s going to have expectations about where he should be drafted, and I think he’ll be disappointed. He’s not going to get drafted where he thinks he should. 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.”
I asked this general manager: “Do you think he’ll be drafted?”
“No,” he said.
We don’t know who this final General Manager is, of course, and he only represents one team in the N.F.L., but one has to wonder how many other team executives are echoing what he said, and what it means for what will happen in the draft. Personally, it doesn’t matter to me. If Sam ends up a New York Giant then I’ll be cheering for him, if he ends up playing for anyone else in the NFC East then I won’t. Whether he’s openly gay or not shouldn’t really matter to anyone anymore than the color of Jackie Robinson’s skin should have mattered to anyone in Major League Baseball. In the end, all that should matter is how good a player he is. In that regard I find it puzzling how someone who was named Defensive Player of the Year would not be a serious prospect for any NFL team looking to fill a gap in that area as the final GM quoted above seems to suggest. That’s why it seems likely that there’s going to be a lot of pressure on the NFL during draft time, and if Sam doesn’t get drafted there are going to be a lot of people asking questions.
Michael Sam just spent an incredibly successful season being a teammate at an high-profile SEC team. Presumably without incident. If that can happen despite being surrounded by less mature college kids, I fail to see how he can’t be successful in a professional organization. Unless, that is, the NFL is at its core not very professional.
Now if only he can end up on a team with Richie Incognito….
If he isn’t the sort of impact player Jackie Robinson was…regardless of color or sexual orientation…good luck. Great players get treated differently. Right or wrong.
I am very proud to be a Missouri alum today.
Shorter Doug: “Michael Sam gives up on his dream of playing in the NFL.”
I sincerely hope I am wrong.
Kudos to Sam for declaring his orientation before the draft instead of ex post facto.
He’ll be drafted, but low. Middle rounds, perhaps.
@Peacewood: He was already graded at 3rd to 4th round because his size is too small for an NFL 4-3 defensive end and he supposedly does not have the speed for a 3-4 outside linebacker. Don’t be surprised if this drops him out of the draft altogether. Which makes one wonder why anyone would sign him as a UDFA considering the “distractions” that are sure to follow.
You’d think a team would rather have an openly gay player who has talent over a straight person that doesn’t.
(And of course, the U.S. military, the Israeli military, and the U.K. military have all fallen to pieces now that they accept gay individuals.)
The guy’s already proven he’s a damn good player–who cares about his orientation? If I were a coach, I’d snap him up instante.
@grumpy realist: The NFL accepts gay individuals too, as long as they pretend to be straight.
@grumpy realist: Homosexuality is also a huge taboo on soccer. Here in Brazil there is only one player that came out as gay(In fact, he was outed, and in the beggining he denied it).
I have no idea about their actual needs, but it probably would be a good PR move for the Washington Snyders to pick him.
On the subject of gays in soccer:
That’s in December 2012, about a year later, Thomas Hitzlsperger was the first ever Premier League star to come out. He did so _after_ he had retired.
@PJ: I´m talking about Brazilian soccer. There is only one openly homosexual player (Richarlysson, that´s plays for Atletico Mineiro). Even in Europe they are relatively rare.
It will matter, and there will be many players who will be extremely uncomfortable with it.
Guy has guts. Good luck to him .
Every player who was voted SEC Defensive Player of the year, as Sam was, was drafted in the NFL.
@Rick Almeida: Yeah, the thing that struck me most was that a bunch of college-age males in Missouri seemed to have no problem with this whatsoever.
I know 🙂
Robbie Rogers is out, and currently playing for the Los Angeles Galaxy in the MLS, making him the only active gay player in any of the five major leagues in the US. He came out a couple of months before being signed by the Galaxy.
He came out because a ton of people already knew about it, rumors were swirling, and he was going to be outed anyways. So he just wanted to beat them to the punch and get it out there to disarm the rumors. He said as much himself. People who think he’s doing this because he’s trying to get in the news and push an agenda are f******g idiots. This will not help his draft stock, he knows that this will hurt it. But being outed by others is an extremely traumatic thing, and he was just trying to prevent that.
As for how the NFL is going to deal with this, I can only wonder: if his whole team at Missou knew and was fine with it, why on earth can’t a professional team be fine with it? It leads me to believe that the players aren’t the problem. It’s the 60-80 year old owners and execs that don’t like it, and are going to project their bigotry onto their players. Yes, there are a few bigoted asshat players that will say dumb stuff, but I think they will be the minority.
Excellent news. It will be difficult for actual nay-sayers to get purchase enough to derail him in 2014. Too much instant focus on what people say, and then we all hear about it 1 second later. It will be nice when this becomes a non-issue. This is a hopeful sign we’re on the way.
@OzarkHillbilly: “He was already graded at 3rd to 4th round because his size is too small for an NFL 4-3 defensive end …”
Heh, and Russell Wilson is too small to play quarterback!
maybe he can be a “tight end”! glad evryone has a new gay person to focus on, whether he’s good or bad it’ll be because he’s gay….
I’m just waiting for the inevitable “why is the NFL shoving gay football players down our throats?” comments.
What’s interesting to me is that while older NFL executives are anonymously saying the league isn’t ready for this, actual NFL players, including the Super Bowl MVP, seem to be just fine with it.
Anti-gay prejudice is a generational thing. People under 30 have grown up watching gay people on TV, know gay people, and have gay friends. It’s not the players who care.
@Franklin: Yep, you got that right. Especially true in his case as Leonard Little fluctuated between 270 and 280 and Sam comes in at 255-260.
@OzarkHillbilly: Sorry, I’m not sure if my sarcasm meter is working. Wikipedia informs me Little was only 237 pounds coming into the draft, and he seemed to work out fine? Sorry, I don’t know much about his career or if I’m missing something here.
Passing along what someonepaid to rate college football players thinks:
“Conclusion: Given the nature of Michael Sam’s story, he’ll be an important NFL individual if he makes it through an NFL training camp. Unfortunately, the nature of his play will leave a lot of teams wondering if he’s worth the trouble. That would be true if he was a first-round prospect, but for a guy whose tape shows early third-day talent, things are far more complex. Taking the narrative aside, I think Sam could be a reasonably effective player in a 4-3 defensive line rotation, or a run-side endbacker in a 3-4, if he improves his technique and finds a way to use more pure power on the field. The speed probably is what it is, and that’s a problem — because edge-rushers need more than the burst he currently has, and tweeners who move inside require far more ability to move people than he’s shown.”
The scout who said the Patriots would be most accepting is probably correct. What will matter to them is if he’s good. There will probably be a few slings and arrows from a few fans, but if Belichick wants him, he’ll get him, if Sam likes the deal offered.
He is not the first gay player in the NFL (if he makes it), only the first publicly out gay player. At the very least the Ravens and 49ers have had gay players in the past whose team mates knew, even though they were not publicly out.
He may very well not get drafted now. After all, the good organizations will recognize that he has fallen off some draft boards and if interested they can wait and use a later pick or even sign him as an undrafted free agent. I would think his best bet is to try to put on some weight between now and the draft and have a good private workout.
As a Pats fan, I’d be happy for them to give Sam a shot and see how he fits into their defense. And Robert Kraft already said in an interview today that he’d love to have Sam on the team, as long as he can play and help the team win.
Plus, there is no coach on earth who’s better at telling the media to go fornicate with themselves if they try to make a circus out something. Look how well he handled Tebow, Hernandez, etc.
It is hard to find good pass-rushers, so if he can do that then I don’t see teams passing on him for being gay.
Character – attitude – physical abilities. That is all that should matter. Too many players with outstanding physical attributes (strength, speed, size, flexibility, endurance) end up in trouble, ineffective, and washouts. They must also avoid injuries – they must havs some luck. This man should be judged the same as anyone else.
What never gets mentioned is that the supposed “baggage” is not Sam’s, its the other players and personnel on the team.
Agreed. So far, the public reaction here seems to echo what Kraft said: “If he’s good, and he can help us win, who cares what his sexual preference is?”
It speaks well of New England fans, in whose number I include myself, that this isn’t an issue for them.
The real question is whether the team that eventually drafts Mr. Sam is prepared for the media circus that will occur during training camp first few games.
There are several NFL analyst who say that no team is currently willing to draft Tim Tebow because of the media circus that comes with him even though we would only be a third string back up quarterback. The same thing will occur for whoever needs an outside pass rusher who can get to the quarterback but cannot cover a tight end/split end in pass coverage.
Who are these analysts talking about how no team would draft a guy who has already been drafted?
And few NFL teams carry a third string quarterback unless no.1 or 2 are on their way out.
@superdestroyer: “media circus” : exactly the problem If the media would stick to the game instead of a player’s private life. This is not the concern or business of the public. For some reason now it is getting to the point where people no longer have a private life. Many reporters try to stir things up, dig up some kind of malicious dirt and gossip, and try to get the latest “scoop”. Team owners and coaches should make it clear to reporters to keep it on the game, or leave.
“It’s the game”
Should have written “sign” Tim Tebow would probably have a job as a third string quarterback if it was not for ESPN obsessing about his every play in practice.
While watching ESPN at 06:00 PM, it was amazing that Sam took up 20 of the first 30 minutes. Being in NFL will make the circus bigger because if this was going to happen in the NBA or MLB.
@Franklin: Sorry, been away. I don’t know what Little came in at, only what he played at (a pro bowl level) My point was that Sam could easily put on 15-20 pounds. Whether he will be as good at that weight is unknown. But then, nobody knows how good any one is going to be 2 years down the line when they get drafted.
The media has mixed personal life and sporting life since the 1970’s when ABC came up with its Upclose and Personal segments when ABC decided that casual fans (and espeicallly women) would watch more if they were invested in an athlete. It has just gotten worse since then.
What is more interesting is that Sam is the 7th of 8 children and three of his siblings are dead and two are in prison and that he weighed only 222 lbs coming out of high school.
Wasn’t so hard for Mizzou to do it….
@superdestroyer: Can’t disagree with any of that.
I think this just reinforces what the Congress-critter recently said (too lazy to look it up): Why the heck do we have a special law to give the NFL tax exemption? In what universe does that make sense? What we have here is not just some neanderthal organization (ala The Masters golf tournament) but such an organization that is taking money from our pockets.
What is also interesting is that Mr. Sam is a fifth year senior and either has graduated or will graduated this spring. According to the media guide posted his degree is in parks, recreation, and tourism and he has gained 30 pounds of weight since high school. That is probably why so many offensive and defensive linemen take a redshirt year.
It’s been going on long before the 1970’s. For time immemorial elite athletes have always been celebrities. And the personal lives of celebrities have always been of interest to the public.
Of course, the “public” personal lives of celebrities have also always been managed for time immemorial as well. And they have also been tied up in the politics of their time as well.
To your point SD, what happened in the US during the 70’s, thanks in part to things like the Upclose and Personal segments, was that there was a sense of greater access to the personal lives of sports figures. But, following McLuhan and others, the fact is that this was true for all celebrities, in part because TV invited this sort of spectacle. For example, the Carter White House was the subject of similar types of specials intent on demonstrating that, behind closed doors, the President was just like the rest of us.
Maybe the Niners will draft him, if he can play and he is a decent person, he will be welcomed here.
I am not sure the Niners would take him. They need some receivers and a backup at qb.
Good fair read by Bernie Miklasz of the STL Post Dispatch: Bernie: Where will Sam go in the draft? Money quote:
“The “distraction” worries are humorous to me. NFL teams have welcomed dog killers, druggies, players with criminal backgrounds, players that have publicly spewed racist bile, players that have fathered multiple children out of wedlock with multiple women, players convicted of DUI (and vehicle manslaughter) and at least one player that currently stands charged with first-degree murder. If you can play, and help rack up the victories, the NFL has a spot for you. And gay players have been on NFL rosters all along. Check out the excellent “A Football Life” on the late Washington Redskins tight end Jerry Smith, which airs on the NFL Network.”
If Tim Tebow could play, he would have a job. It’s funny to criticize an “obsession” about his play…because that’s probably the only legitimate thing for the sports media to “obsess” about.
Tebow worked pretty hard to get attention. Are you really whining because he got it?
Distractions? The Pats suffered Tebow and Hernandez in 2013 and they made it to the divisional playoffs. A team chooses to be professional or it will show on the field, regardless of who is playing.
@superdestroyer: “The real question is whether the team that eventually drafts Mr. Sam is prepared for the media circus that will occur during training camp first few games.”
Yes, because we all know that the one thing the NFL hates is publicity. That’s why they played the entire Superbowl in secret without any press around.
@anjin-san: “Tebow worked pretty hard to get attention. Are you really whining because he got it?”
Tebow kept getting hired because the Tea Party Jesus Freaks adopted him as their pet — apparently since Christians are such a terribly oppressed minority in this country, anyone who would credit Jeebus for his few wins deserved their fandom. Team owners figured that kind of following would bring them money. But Tebow wasn’t all that good, and he dragged his teams down. And, I suspect much to the owners’ surprise, the TeaTards were just as happy to see Tebow cut — because the only thing they like more than a patriotic hero to salute is a reason to complain that they’re victims.
The Niners receivers are arguably the best in football. What they need is to get Kaepernick and Steve Young together for a lot of coaching so that Kap can learn to properly exploit them.
He has gone as far as he is going to using only his considerable sheer talent, now he has to lean to be a complete NFL quarterback. I believe he can do it, in addition to being very talented, he is also very bright. I think Young is the perfect guy to mentor him, not sure why this has not already happened.
Stewart killed it last night. Watch the last 30 seconds if nothing else:
Jacksonville who needed to put people in the seats took a pass on Tebow because they did not want the media circus that comes with it.
The team that drafts Sam is going to have with ESPN reporting live from their training camp everyday and having a third or fourth draft pick getting a lot more attention than their first round pick. They are also going to have the non-sports medai obsessing abou their team and everything that they do. The circus will probably last less than a season will probably have a negative impact.
Everyone needs to look at the negative impact virtually every team have had when they appear on Hard Knocks. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_Knocks_(TV_series)#2011 and that is a minor program. The media presence that will occur in the training camp of whatever team drafts Sam will be an order of magnitude loose.
Also, if the team that drafts Sam has a bad/underperforming season, the coach and management will be in trouble no matter how they manage the situation. Why does any team want to put everyone else’s careers on the line for a third or fourth round draft pick.
Objection, asserted without evidence.
Alternate hypothesis: their personnel department knows he doesn’t have an NFL skillset, just like the other 31 teams.
As Bill Nye said to Ken Ham, “What would convince you to change your mind?”
Because how could all that extra attention from the media possibly put more people in the seats?
I kinda like Tebow(He even voted for Obama), he is the sympathy reincarnated, in a sport where lots of people are giant d*, but the fact is that religious posturing is not welcome in professional sports. In soccer, FIFA explicitly banned this kind of commemoration of goal, for instance:
Besides that, the NFL is the crappiest career possible. It´s very difficult to keep a career there. And I think that his career as motivational speaker is a better choice for him than destroying his brain on the NFL.
How many other cites do you want me to find?
Rereading the logic above, it seems apparent that the consencus is that Mr. Sam will go great on a winning team where winning overcomes most distractions.