Gay College Football Star Michael Sam Makes History
The NFL offseason is here, and not even two weeks removed from the Super Bowl, we have some groundbreaking news. It’s not really drama per se, but it is a first, and every comment, every headline will be analyzed-- this is a scrutinized-under-a-microscope type of story. We are talking about Michael Sam, the 6’2” defensive end from Missouri, who made headlines recently with his announcement that he is gay.
This is the second announcement of a high-profile athlete pronouncing his sexual orientation; the first was Jason Collins, a long-time NBA center, who made his announcement towards the end of the 2012-13 NBA season.
I am deeply happy to see Sam make this announcement. While Collins may have been the first pro athlete to make such an announcement, Collins did it as he gazed into the sunset towards the end of his final season in his NBA career, whereas Sam has yet to even begin his career in the NFL.
There is no better time for a player to be in Collins's, Sam’s, or anyone else's shoes who makes such an announcement. No person, athlete or not, should ever have to hide anything which is such a deep part of who he or she is. In an ideal world, family, friends, teachers and other peers would provide whatever support they need to act as themselves. It certainly seems like Sam had this support network.
It is worth nothing that Sam's team knew all year about him being gay. It was hardly a big deal. That is the attitude that should translate to the NFL.
No matter how he is treated by the draft, the NFL and other players, how Sam handles the next couple years of his career will undoubtedly set a major precedent for future athletes. He has paved the way for other athletes to make the same announcement. He has made history in the NFL. What makes this so important and significant is the lasting impact this will have on people inside and outside the sport. Someday, a player announcing that he is gay will be the same thing as a player announcing that he is straight-- that is, not news.
Unlike many people making critical decisions in their lives, Sam doesn’t have any historical data to support his decision or how to handle the next steps in his life. This is a monumental occasion that will reverberate through the sporting world and provide unspoken support to so many current and future athletes. These athletes can learn and rest assured that when they feel the time is right for them, they will be treated with the dignity and respect that I am confident Michael Sam will be.
I commend Sam and his decision. Now let’s take a look at how this will affect his draft stock.
Michael Sam was pegged by many as a fourth- or fifth-round flier who could peak as high at the late-third-round. Compared to top players at their position, Sam lacks height as a top DE and speed as a top OLB. He was never going to be drafted in the first two rounds. Guys like Kyle Van Noy (DE, BYU) and Trent Murphy (DE, Stanford) are likely second-round picks, and in a size-and-speed comparison, Sam doesn’t equate.
Now, looking at him as a third, fourth or fifth-round pick, should a GM consider the possibility of Michael Sam as a distraction? Remember that the media is going to soak this story in and ask every player from the starting quarterback to the third-string practice-squad kicker what their opinion is of having an openly gay teammate. Is that really a distraction? If you consider winning the Heisman trophy before a big bowl game a distraction, then sure. Players from almost every team are currently being asked their sentiments about the topic. Will GMs be nervous of the repercussions of roster moves surrounding the player? The truth is, it's no more a distraction than any other big news-worthy story, and any GM who tries to make that argument is lying to himself.
Players similar to Michael Sam include linebackers Jonathan Brown (Illinois) and Prince Shembo (Notre Dame), who will be lined up next to him in the third to fifth rounds when a team is looking at the linebacker position. Team draft boards, though, are not exactly what many of us think of them. Not taking in to account trades and compensatory picks, most teams have the opportunity to draft seven players to their team, and how they draft these players is highly dependent on their own strategy, their needs, and all th team around them who might be drafting similar players.
Michael Sam will take up a roster spot on someone’s team as a draft pick. Sam has earned it, and he deserves to be drafted. Where he gets drafted will have a big impact on his pocket. Based on sporttrac.com, the first pick in the third round received a four-year deal worth $3,126,304 plus a $703,304 signing bonus, while the first pick in the fourth round received a four-year deal worth $2,739,528 plus a $497,028 signing bonus and the first pick in the fifth round received a four-year deal worth $2,400,512 plus a $215,512 bonus. While I hope Sam’s draft stock will be unaffected by his announcement, if it were to be, the financial impact is big, but not as big as what it would mean to him and his family, and certainly not as big as what it says about the NFL GMs who passed on Sam. Let's hope he gets drafted exactly where he would have if he hadn't made the announcement.
Good luck to Michael Sam!