By: Steve Balestrieri
Michael Sam’s coming out that he’s gay has unleashed a torrent of rhetoric both for and against him and other gay people that has made this the #1 story of the day. But in the end, the reaction says much more about us as a people than it could ever say about him.
Sam is a talented if somewhat undersized DE for a very talented defense in Missouri and prior to this news had the label of a “tweener”, a player too short (6’1) to play defensive end in the NFL’s 4-3 defenses but without enough experience to play OLB in a 3-4 scheme. While he had an impressive 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss in 2013, he was considered a day two prospect behind his bigger and more highly ranked teammate Kony Ealy.
But now all eyes are on Sam and depending upon one’s point of view, he’s either a hero or an abomination by others who view homosexuality as a sin… Bottom line is, he’s really neither, while certainly brave to come out early and face the music as it were and risk his draft stock, he’s not a hero who rushes into burning buildings to rescue people in a fire or faces death on a daily basis in the mountains of Afghanistan.
Nor is he a devil who leads a life of sin as some intolerant, bigoted people will claim him to be. And his draft stock has changed; just today CBS Sports had him plummeting down their boards over 70 places. Shame on them. If he had plummeted down a week ago because their draft experts said, his skills don’t translate into an NFL where he won’t be a difference maker on Sundays, that’s fine. But their timing says otherwise.
And that’s the point, people are still too hung up on race, creed and sexual orientation in our judgment of others. The Missouri Tigers obviously had no issue with Sam; his sexual orientation was well known this season by them and was of no consequence. They made no issue of it and put the issue of football and team more than anything else. His teammates and coaches speak of his character, professionalism and leadership. So if you want to judge Michael Sam, fine, judge him…as a complete football player.
While I personally applaud his courage for coming out as he did, his sexual orientation matters zero in the grand scheme of things here. Those of us here are paid to write about football not make social commentary and if Sam were to get drafted by the New England Patriots, our focus is to judge him by his actions on the football field.
We’ll look critically at how well he can rush the passer or cover tight ends and running backs and could care less about any other issues. And in point of fact, I’d rather have his teammate Ealy because I think he’ll be much better at getting after opposing QBs than Sam will, not because of any kind of bigotry but because it comes down to football skills.
But now the cat is out of the bag so to speak and we’re all in on what was once Sam’s secret. And many of us will root for him because of his courage and simply for the fact that many of us love an underdog story, so if the Patriots in the fifth or sixth round pick Michael Sam, we will cheer.
But all the trailblazing, and talk of being the first “openly gay player in the NFL” will wear off in about a minute under the watchful eye of Bill Belichick. Belichick has always been and always will be about “what’s best for the football team.” Raise your hand if you’ve heard that about 1000 times in Foxboro.
If Sam is lucky enough to be drafted in New England, Belichick will put all the talk to rest quickly and with little fanfare. If he could put the Aaron Hernandez and Tim Tebow “distractions” to rest early last training camp, Sam’s sexual choices will have zero impact. Of that I’m sure.
So whether you’re a fan of Michael Sam’s coming out of the closet or against it is your business. He obviously chose his timing of doing so to place the emphasis during the NFL Combine and the draft on his football skills. Judge him by those and not anything else that has little other consequence.
So….what is Sam’s three-cone time anyway?