Making it in the NFL is not easy. The average career lasts less than four seasons. Getting drafted isn’t that easy either.
Some teams draft to fill needs. Others tend to pick the best player available regardless of position. A few teams take players completely off their boards for reasons ranging from health to off-field issues to….sexuality. Sexuality is a new one and currently only one player falls into that category, Michael Sam.
Sam, the All-American, the 2013 SEC C0-Defensive player of the year, the college graduate, the African-American, the NFL prospect.
When I received the call Sunday evening that Sam was going to “come out”, the magnitude of the situation hadn’t quite hit me. Forty-five minutes later when the news broke, the sports world was abuzz. Today, reality has set in. His announcement is a game changer.
Twitter is tweeting, talk shows are talking, supporters are supporting and haters are hating.
Twitter was simply made for this story. Talk shows too. I expected support for Sam. Unfortunately, I expected the detractors too.
NFL executives like Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft and the Broncos’ John Elway went on the record offering words of support and encouragement. Those statements didn’t surprise me as they came from gentlemen whose organizations exude class and success.
And then there are those unnamed team execs that offer backward thinking and do so under the cloak of darkness and unaccountability. One such coward told Sports Illustrated, ”I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet. In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game.” A man’s game? It seems to me Michael Sam is the one being a “man” in this example.
That myopic view from the front office will keep other players in the closet and keep teams from winning on and off the field. Former wide receiver Dont’e Stallworth summed up my feelings best when he tweeted, “If any NFL team can’t “handle the media coverage” of drafting Sam, then your team is already a loser on the field… let me tell you why…” and he preceded to tell the world why and it was brilliant.
It is widely believed there are many players in the NFL that are gay. For their own reasons, they have chosen to hide their sexuality and just play the game. That is their choice, I respect it and understand it.
What truly impresses me about Sam is he made this announcement knowing it would probably affect his draft status. He could potentially cost him millions, hell, it could also cost him his NFL career. Not many people are willing to speak out for what they believe in knowing it could cost them a career. Chris Kluwe, the former Vikings’ punter knows first hand how being an advocate and being out-spoken can get you kicked out of the NFL. Knowing what Kluwe knows even, I am certain he would do it all over again and twice on any given Sunday.
There are only thirty-two teams in the NFL. Only fifty-three players per team. Only 1696 jobs to play professional football at the highest level in the world and Michael Sam wants one of those jobs. Not because he’s gay but because he feels he is one of the 1696 best players in the world. And he is. The question lingering now is which of those franchises is “man” enough to select him.
I truly believe that every locker room can handle a gay teammate. Sure there are a few narrow-minded individuals that won’t want to shower with a gay player but overall, teams will welcome a guy that can help them win. For the shower reason, I eliminated the New Orleans Saints. Jonathan Vilma opened his mouth. Enough said. I think most fans will be supportive too. I realize there will always be morons in the stands. We saw that this past weekend with the Texas Tech fan. So after determining all things equal with players and fans, I started in looking at both conferences and I feel there are only eight teams that are in a position to draft Sam.
New England Patriots. Leadership and class. Robert Kraft as an owner is already on the record saying any player that can help his team win is welcome on his team. This is a franchise that weathered Aaron Hernandez and Tim Tebow in the same season and still finished 12-4 only to lose in the AFC Championship Game. The media circus came to town and it didn’t affect the play or the mindset of the team. Credit to Bill Belichick and his staff.
Pittsburgh Steelers. This is another franchise with stability and great ownership and character. Mike Tomlin runs a tight ship and the Rooney’s know how influence change. A storied franchise that can handle the spotlight. Being a smaller media market helps them as well.
Denver Broncos. John Elway was one of a few executives to speak out on behalf of Michael Sam. Elway wants to win and understands the NFL. They have Peyton Manning and no one messes with Manning on or off the field. Manning just wants to win and he wins with class and loses with dignity.
Kansas City Chiefs. The University of Missouri is close to a two hour drive from Arrowhead. Andy Reid did a pretty good job with the scrutiny that came with Michael Vick. They are another franchise that “gets it” and the hometown fans will embrace a Tiger.
Indianapolis Colts. Quarterback Andrew Luck has been very vocal in his support of gay rights and more than ten teammates have been as well. With Luck and strong personalities in the front office and head coach, Indy appears to be another strong contender for Sam’s services.
New York Giants. A tough as nails guy like Tom Coughlin isn’t going to put up with anything. This is a veteran team with an ownership group that understands the media and entertainment in a city that can devour the weak. It might be the biggest media market but they are well equipped to mentor a young player.
Green Bay Packers. This is the smallest media market in the league. They only have one mission in Titletown and that is to win the Super Bowl every year. They have a strong front office, a great quarterback and winning tradition.
Seattle Seahawks. Super Bowl champions know how to avoid distractions. That is how you become winners. Pete Carroll still has that college football charm and California attitude. Repeating will be their only focus next year and nothing is going to distract from that.
Sam is projected to be a third or fourth round pick. He is labeled as a “tweener” and many teams are going to hide behind that as a reason not to select him. You can be sure that the team that selects him will be a winner because winners are not afraid and clearly after Sunday’s announcement, the former Missouri Tiger is not afraid of being who he is.
When Michael Sam told the world, “I’m a college graduate, I’m African-American and I’m gay” he told us a lot about himself. Understand that he didn’t choose to be African-American and he didn’t choose to be gay. Sam chose to be a college graduate.
He chose to be true to himself and honest with the NFL.
Good choice. Now I am waiting to see which NFL team makes the right choice.
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[Art from SILVERMAN: On Sports. Image from ESPN]