An X-Factor Regarding Michael Sam

michael SamFor the most part the media response I have been hearing about Michael Sam coming out as being gay is exactly as it should be.  Supportive, encouraging and welcoming of Mr. Sam.  I often give ESPN’s Colin Cowherd a tough time but I think he spoke beautifully on the topic on his 2/10 radio show that you can download as a podcast. 

I applaud Sam’s courage, I applaud the support he received from his college at Missouri.  It’s about time, it’s overdue and I am glad this moment in history has arrived. 

Two prominent NFL team owners, Bob Kraft of the New England Patriots and the New York Giants Co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch have voiced support for Sam.  And other teams have released supportive statements as well.

On the other side, there have been anonymous general managers who have said that Sam’s draft status will fall as a result of his announcement because some locker rooms aren’t ready for an openly gay player.  Even those on the side of Sam, who are being very supportive, such as First Takes’ Steven A. Smith, acknowledge this is possible.  And that there can be locker room issues that are not necessarily related to discrimination. 

Whenever you are dealing with firsts, there are a lot of things that are possible, but you do not let it stop you from doing the right thing.  (Steven A. never suggested not drafting Sam.  He is strongly on the young man’s side.)

As far as the locker room goes, here is where the X-factor comes in.  Michael Sam may be the first openly gay player in the NFL, but he will not be the only gay player.  Odds are, whatever teams drafts him will have at least one gay player as well. 

IF Sam is having problems in the locker room because of his sexual orientation, will they stay silent?  I won’t judge them for not “coming out” previously; I can’t understand what it is like to be in their position.  But I would think, and hope, that they would feel a call to stand up for Sam should the need arise.  I would also hope that leaders of the team, whether they are gay or not, would also step forward if need be.  Ideally, they do so on day one before there is issue and firmly let everyone know there will be no issue.

For example, if Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady stood up in front of the team the first day of training camp and told everyone this is how it is going to be, zero tolerance for discrimination, or you’re out of here, I have a feeling things would be okay in the locker room.  Same thing if John Elway, Jon Fox, and Peyton Manning did so for the Denver Broncos, and so on.  They may not be first ballet hall of famers, but all teams have their leaders, here is hoping they will do the right thing if their team drafts Sam.

Given the overall positive response to Sam, I don’t see it being nearly as long for someone else to come out.  Whether it is on Sam’s team or not, he will have company soon.   I believe this X-factor can help.

A note of caution.  While people with good intention should and will be quick to defend Sam against any sexuality-based discrimination, no one should assume it when it isn’t there or without evidence.

People who don’t know about the game will hear glowing facts like defensive player of the year,  and college All-American, and cry foul over a draft projection for Sam of being in the 3rd through 5th round.  Based on the comparables, or comparisons to similar players in terms of height, speed and ability, that sounds right.  

Keep in mind, great college players don’t always make great, or even good football players.  The Heisman Trophy is awarded to the college football’s best player, and Heisman winners are often not first or second round picks, or even make it in the NFL.

It is also possible a team thinking of drafting Sam  would be concerned about cutting him if he is not one of the best 53 players in camp.  Then a team that did the right thing by disregarding his sexual orientation by drafting him, could fear accusations of discrimination.  Obviously if there was any evidence of that it would have to be followed up.  But only if there is actual evidence to support it.

Another possibility, (although my gut tells me otherwise), that Sam could fall to a lower round beyond the 5th.  Not necessarily because of his sexuality, but because his sexuality could be viewed as a distraction.  Generally your 3rd through 5th round draft pick does not get more attention than your first round pick.  Or your entire team for that matter.  Regardless of the reason, teams generally do not like distractions like that.  Whether the cause of the distraction is sexuality, religion or whatever, unless you are an upper echelon player, some teams will turn away.

Ultimately, I think it will be a team with strong leadership that drafts him.  If I was player, I would rather go in the 6th or 7th  round, as opposed to the 4th or 5th, if it meant going to an organization like New England, the New York Giants, Seattle, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, or Denver, just to name some.  Draft position falling can sometimes be a blessing in disguise.

Wherever he lands, I’ll be rooting for him to succeed (with the possible exception of if he is drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, sorry, I’m a Giants fan, lol).  It took too long, but now that an openly gay player is here, hopefully he paves the way for others, not only in the NFL, but for major league baseball, and other sports as well.