February 25, 2014
“Well, heck yeah, I wish you guys would just say, ‘Michael Sam, how’s football going? How’s training going?’ ” said Sam while addressed a gathering of reporters in the University of Missouri media workroom. “I would love for you to ask me that question. But it is what it is. I just wish you guys would just see me as Michael Sam the football player instead of Michael Sam the gay football player.”
Michael Sam did himself a profound disservice by coming out of the closet before the National Football League Draft this year. He, in essence, moved the media focus from his football talent onto his sexual preference. He put his talents under a microscope, and his draft status will be negatively affected by his decision. Whether intended or not, Michael Sam forever changed the story of his move to the next level from just being another aspiring professional football player to being the first gay man to attempt to play in the NFL.
He had just shared the South Eastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year award by dominating football games against some of the most talented offensive linemen in college athletics. Sam was elected as one of the two best defensive players in a conference whose athletic programs stand above most other universities in the country. The SEC is renowned across the nation for sending players to the National Football League, especially defensive players. Being one of the best players in the best conference in college football almost insures a high draft selection. But, when Michael Sam announced his sexual preference to the media, he simultaneously made one of the most courageous admissions and one of the most foolish comments of the season.
Michael Sam grossly underestimated the impact that his liberation would have on his draft stock Had Sam been Jadeveon Clowney, the 6’6″, 266 pound freak who clocked an official forty yard dash time of 4.53 seconds, then he could have told the media that he exclusively wanted to date polar bears and no one would have questioned his motives or character. But, because Sam had a poor showing at the Senior Bowl, and because he measures too small to play defensive end in the NFL, some pundits saw his declaration of his homosexuality as a desperate ploy to bring attention to himself and to create more buzz in NFL boardrooms through media coverage rather than a self-liberation.
Michael Sam’s motives may seem genuine to the casual observer, and he exudes an authentic displeasure with the focus that has been placed on his sexuality. Unfortunately though, the blame for this media frenzy rests squarely on his shoulders. Had he waited a few more months to make the same announcement, then everyone would be worried about his agility drills and measurements at the combine instead of who he is dating. Sam moved attention away from football when he declared that he wanted to be the first openly gay football player in the NFL. And, his combine results did nothing to shift eyes back to the game. Sam measured at 6’2″ and 266 lbs. with a shorter wingspan than projected at 80 1/4. He had the second to lowest number of repetitions on the 225 lbs. bench press (17), he ran a slow 4.91 forty yard dash, and he projected to be a special teams player or 3rd down rusher to most NFL scouts after the combine. Sam announcement has caused NFL experts to question whether teams want the “distractions” that he brings along with him since he does not bring any overwhelming size, brute strength, or raw athleticism to the table. The experts think some GM’s will pass on him.
“He’s bringing baggage into your locker room,” said ESPN NFL analyst Herm Edwards. “Can the players handle the media attention they are going to get, when they get the question asked, ‘Are you OK with a gay teammate?’ ”
Michael Sam dropped 70 spots on the draft board the night that he came out, and was moved from the ninth ranked defensive end to the 14th ranked DE. Though his precipitous fall on the draftboard could be coincidental, it seems that management teams have responded negatively to his announcement. And, that is the truth about his decision. Sam’s candidness about his sexuality raises several necessary inquiries that were relevant, but also non-issues prior to his declaration. Sexual harassment was always been an underlying issue in the locker room because gay men have always existed there, however once a man is openly gay in a locker room, the public and in-house perceptions could cause problems in the franchise. Something as simple as one man’s sexual orientation could split a locker room, and GM’s are aware of that.
The actions of Michael Sam were not revolutionary or even heroic. They were stupid. No one knows the pain that he has had to live with over the years having to hide his sexuality. In fact, his own father seemed less than pleased with him declaring his homosexuality initially. But, he failed to fully weigh the gravity of celebrating his sexuality publicly. He potentially cost himself a higher draft slot, millions of dollars, and placed himself under the scrutiny of the media. Had Sam put that announcement on hold until May, he would have been judged by his football abilities, acumen, and intelligence quotient rather than his sexual preference.