In the wake of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam’s announcement that he is gay, much of the conversation has reflected around what this announcement will do to his draft stock. Several anonymous general managers and team executives have given the opinion that this news will have a negative impact on Sam in the draft. NFLPA President DeMaurice Smith has taken an extremely strong stance against those executives, calling them “gutless”.
First of all, NFL executives routinely say both positive and negative things anonymously, and criticizing them for one of those many statements is a little ridiculous. More importantly, Smith’s reaction shows just how out of touch he is with reality and the challenges that NFL teams are facing regarding Sam. What Sam brings with him, though no fault of his own, is a media circus unlike any we have seen in recent memory. Sam can talk about how all he wants is to be judged as a football player, but the reality is that there is a massive segment of media (i.e., every non-sports focused media outlet in the country), that will only care about the social and historical impact of Sam joining an NFL team.
The problem for NFL teams is that Michael Sam the football player is not worth that hassle. We are talking about a projected fourth round pick who doesn’t have a clear position at the next level. Sam is simply a different version of Tim Tebow. One of the biggest reasons teams won’t touch Tebow is he isn’t talented enough to justify the media circus he causes. I don’t want to sound like I’m blaming Sam or Tebow for these situations, because they aren’t even remotely the fault of the players. However, the fact remains that they still exist, and that fact will drive teams away.
If Jadeveon Clowney came out today and announced that he was gay, it would have zero impact on his draft stock. Why? Because he’s good enough to be worth the circus. This is a simple risk-reward situation, and for many teams the risk of drafting Sam is going to outweigh the reward. In a perfect world, whether or not to draft Sam would be a strictly football decision. However, in the real world, the media and public relations aspect has to be considered. In truth, people like Smith who are trying to defend or support Sam are actually hurting his NFL chances by continuing to place the focus on his sexual orientation instead of his football talents. Until that changes, not too many teams are going to view the risk-reward balance in Sam’s favor.