By now everyone is aware that Missouri DE Michael Sam has come out of the closet. It’s not everyday a first team All-American announces he’s homosexual, especially one who’s only a few months away from being drafted in the NFL. So one has to wonder, did he affect his stock for the 2014 NFL Draft?
First off, I give a lot of credit to Sam for having the guts to come out the way he did. Yes, many people already knew, and given enough time, it would’ve been leaked anyway. But for him to take control of the situation and own it the way he did was both impressive and admirable. It was also good to hear of his teammates at Mizzou honoring his wishes to keep it private and out of the headlines. That kind of brotherly bond and respect between players is truly the heart of the sport, and one of the things that makes it so special.
But the question remains, will this affect his draft stock?
I hate to say it, but I think it will. Right or wrong, this story will be attached to his name between now and draft day, and from draft day through summer camp. Right or wrong, this story likely isn’t going away any time soon.
Whichever team drafts him is going to know that along with this guy comes a media circus. A media circus that will be constantly wondering how he’s doing, how his teammates are doing playing with a homosexual, how his coaches are adapting to having a homosexual on the team, how the locker room dynamics have changed, if the locker room dynamics change, etc.
Not only is there a guaranteed caravan of news trucks to be stationed outside the headquarters of whichever team drafts him, there’s the question of how the locker room receives him. We like to think everyone in a professional environment can accept someone’s sexual orientation and let the world continue spinning, but a football locker room isn’t exactly a normal work place.
Most of the players in the NFL today are more than likely totally fine with having a homosexual on the team and don’t really care what he does in his private life, so long as he works as hard as everyone else and helps the team win football games. But there’s still going to be some players who aren’t totally comfortable showering next to an openly gay man. For all the Brendon Ayanbadejo’s and Chris Kluwe’s of the league, there’s also the Chris Culliver’s, who “can’t be with that sweet stuff”.
How badly could his stock be affected by this? I don’t think anything drastic. I still think he’ll fall in that 3rd-4th round range, but this is a situation that may not be attractive to every team. Some teams may welcome the feel good publicity that will come from drafting him, because whoever drafts him will immediately garner a lot of new fans. But some teams may view him and his story as more of distraction from the tunnel vision of chasing a Lombardi Trophy.
The best scenario for Sam is to be drafted by a team with an established GM and coach, who can handle the increased media attention and keep the team focused, and a veteran locker room presence that will quiet any neanderthals who might razz him.
But truly the best scenario for Sam is that this story goes away. He came out, that’s great, I respect the heck out of him. But now let’s forget it. Let’s just view him as another football prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft. Let’s not talk about his sexual orientation anymore. Let’s focus instead on whether or not he’s got the coverage ability to drop back playing OLB in a 3-4. Let’s focus instead on whether he’s got enough bulk to play with his hand in the dirt in a 4-3.
Let’s just focus on Michael Sam the football player, not Michael Sam the first openly gay football player.