The question that will surround Michael Sam for the rest of his eternity and most definitely his NFL career is that if he wasn’t publicly gay would he even be on an NFL roster? Is it fair? Yes. Why? Because he made it a public topic. When Sam publicly announced before the NFL draft that the current Defensive Player of the Year in the SEC is gay and proud of that, he made it a topic. The NFL was put in a corner. Do they draft him even though he might not be NFL material or do they pass on him and face the brutal public ridicule that would come with the media and numerous LBGT organizations boycotting their product.
Thankfully for the NFL, the St Louis Rams and Jeff Fisher decided to give Sam an opportunity. In the 7th round, the 249th pick overall, Michael Sam’s name was announced as a draft pick of the Rams. Did he deserve that chance? Yeah, sure. He deserved it because of his play on the field. While he would have not been the first or even the last big name college player to get skipped over in the NFL Draft, his public display almost blackmailed the NFL into drafting him. After all, many straight male legitimate college stars don’t get drafted. Some from small schools like Victor Cruz (Manhattan) and James Harrison (Kent State) and others from larger universities such as Arian Foster (Tennessee) and Hall of Famer Warren Moon (Washington), heck even this year’s snub SS Dion Bailey out of USC.
But no, Michael Sam couldn’t take that chance. In a display of selfishness, he put his sexuality ahead of his ability. While being gay or straight is a hot button topic in the world and especially sports these days with Jason Collins and the NBA, Sam chose to put himself on a platform and announce that he was gay before he ever played a down in the NFL. Essentially holding a gun to the NFL’s head and making them choose opportunity vs ridicule.
Would Michael Sam have gotten drafted in the 7th round anyway? One could argue he might have even gotten drafted as high as the third round if NFL front offices around the league had not considered him a distraction. An unnecessary one at that. In a NFL locker room, they don’t care if you like men or women, they care if you can help them win. There are bigots in all forms and walks of life that will judge Sam because he is gay. That doesn’t exclude a NFL locker room, but it doesn’t exclusively apply to it either. Sam will face bigotry just walking down the street, and for the rest of his life since he so publicly made himself a target. That was his choice. Straight players don’t stand up on a stage and announce their sexual orientation and it’s not part of the pre-draft questions that GM’s and scouts throw at them.
For his part, Sam took his opportunity with the Rams and played very well this preseason. He had 11 tackles including 3 sacks, 2 of which were at the expense of uber-rookie and potential superstar Johnny Manziel aka Johnny Football. However, the truth is… Like it or not, Sam was not blessed with prototypical NFL size. He has talent, he has a motor and pushes himself on the field. Those were the special qualities that made him a defensive standout at Missouri. But at 6’2″ (and that’s stretching it), Sam now lines up against NFL tackles that stand 6’6″ to 6’8″, not college size offensive linemen that were sometimes not even as tall as he was. Much like Tim Tebow who himself would win numerous college awards, there is a big difference between the levels.
Michael Sam was always a long shot to make the St Louis Rams, even with Jeff Fisher aka the coach that loves to take chances on players. The Rams already featured starters Robert Quinn and Chris Long as well as talented backups Eugene Sims, Williams Hayes and fellow rookie Ethan Westbrooks. Defensive end depth is not a problem in St Louis, that is why Sam was cut and not brought on to the practice squad. The Rams simply did not need him. It was Sam’s talent, not his orientation that helped him make it through 4 preseason games and not get cut sooner. It was that talent that made the decision for Jeff Fisher a difficult one. It was his sexual orientation that made it a three ring circus after he was cut.
Just like a carousel, the ever evolving story of Michael Sam, the latest chapter in the round and round we go saga has Sam going to the Dallas Cowboys practice squad. Yes, much like a carousel, I doubt this is the last stop for the embattled defensive end. Lost in the debate over Sam’s orientation is his ability, more importantly… his ability on a NFL level. There is little doubt that Jerry Jones brought Sam in for the publicity. Jones, never one to shy away from the spotlight most definitely saw the fervor over the release of Sam and brought him so that the Cowboys could look like a savior. In a NFL logic, the move makes sense. The Cowboys are thin on the defensive line, and putting Sam on the practice squad doesn’t hurt anything. It’s a safe move. If Jones was serious about giving Sam a chance, he would have put him on the main roster. Which is just another reason this is a publicity move.
The question comes again… Should Michael Sam have announced he was gay, especially before the NFL Draft. The answer is no. Sam, who is now a victim of the same publicity that he used to get noticed and get drafted. He is now the pawn for players like Jones that want to parade him around as a sideshow. Sam, undoubtedly has a talent to play in the NFL even if he is never a star. That’s not saying he can’t be. Many have surpassed the odds of size and made an impact, on the defensive side former Panther’s linebacker Sam Mills comes to mind.
Sam has no reason to stay in the “closet,” but he should not have the platform to make it public either. In this world of LBGT civil rights, I fully support one’s right to just simply be. I support gay marriage as simply a point that why are we wasting tax payer dollars and a lifetime of arguing over a person’s personal issues and rights. Every human being has a right to make that choice whether you or I or anyone likes it. It is their lives. It is a public debate but it shouldn’t be, it is a distraction for politicians that want to avoid more serious topics like war and poverty. So yes, Sam has every right to just simply be gay. I will not judge him for that, nor should you. I do judge him on exploiting that, and so should the entire LBGT community. He used you to get a chance in the NFL, now in a ironic twist he is the one being used.