Monday, February 10, 2014

Michael Sam.The first openly gay NFL player?

Michael Sam, a defensive end for Missouri, is big news these days. That's because Sam has openly declared he is gay, and the NFL draft is coming up in a few months.

Sam is the reigning SEC defensive player of the year, no small feat, and a consensus first team All-America football player. Very impressive stuff.

Yet whether it was wise or not for Sam to "come out" on the eve of the NFL draft is debatable.

It really shouldn't matter but, let's face it, there are those on both sides of the issue that either keep commending or disparaging it. Personally, I couldn't care less. Different people have different stations in life for different reasons, and it would be nice if they could all just get along someday, but we're not there yet. Given human nature, we may never get there, but it's a nice thought.

Yet when it comes to Sam, he's most definitely a pioneer charting unknown territory. There has never been an openly gay NFL player before. Did or do they exist? Probably, but Sam is the first to go public, and that as he merely aspires to be in the NFL. How will this work out?

Perhaps former player, head coach, and current NFL analyst Herman Edwards summed it up best.

When NFL owners, general managers, coachs, and scouts gather in their "war rooms" to sort out their draft preferences, they consider a lot of things before picking somebody.

Talent goes without saying. Need at different positions is important. Such things as size, speed, vertical jump, and agility will have been on display at the annual meat market NFL combine in Indianapolis -- basically the human version of the AKC dog show. They'll also consider things that can't be precisely measured, like heart/desire, toughness, and football smarts. Further, how will a particular player fit into their particular system? A player that might be beneficial to one team might well not suit the needs of another.

And of course, there's the baggage thing. Does the player have anything in his past that would cast doubt upon his character? Like a criminal record, a few illegitimate kids by different mothers, drug usage, etc.? Most NFL teams these days tend to shy away from such a potential player -- regardless of his talent -- if they're not convinced he's cleaned up his act and will represent them well in the future. The last thing teams want -- besides a losing record and empty seats at their stadiums -- is bad publicity, for whatever reason.

Enter Michael Sam. He hasn't played a down yet for any NFL team, but he's probably more famous in the sports world right now than Peyton Manning or Tiger Woods. Newspapers, TV, and radio are all over it. His story has exploded on the Net and gone viral in other social media. When it comes to publicity -- he's off the charts right now.

This is not to say it's bad publicity. Indeed, most are very supportive of Sam, and what he is trying to accomplish. Either that, or there's a whole lot of people out there lying through their teeth, because they fear the backlash of not being "politically correct". Decide for yourself which you think more closely resembles public sentiment.

But that's the thing with Sam. Regardless of which team eventually drafts him -- the people in the above-mentioned "war rooms" are certainly aware that drafting him will bring a crush of media attention down on them. They'll be put under a microscope, likely for quite some time, as to how the coaches, and definitely the other players in the locker room, react to having the first openly gay player in their midst. The reporters will be probing everywhere, asking a bazillion questions -- and most will have nothing whatsoever to do with the actual game of football.

By most "expert" accounts, Sam is projected to be a second or third round draft choice. Given his stellar collegiate record -- one would think he would go at least that high, if not higher.

But when it comes to the "baggage" thing, right or wrong, there can also be little doubt that Sam will bring a serious load of it to whatever team calls his name at the NFL draft.

In a perfect world, none of this would matter, of course, and perhaps this will all work out well. Times, they are a-changing, and that's a good thing.

Yet NFL war rooms are akin to the President and the Joints Chiefs of Staff huddling up in their own war room. Nobody knows for sure what conversations take place and how they arrive at decisions, for their own reasons.

But if on draft day, Sam finds himself sitting in the green room while watching himself slide from a second or third round pick, down to fourth, fifth, sixth, or perhaps goes undrafted at all -- then I suppose that would speak volumes as well.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.......

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