Before University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam took the bold and courageous step of announcing to the world that he was gay, most people outside of Mizzou, or possibly the SEC, probably didn’t know who he was. But since his announcement, he’s come under an unprecedented amount of scrutiny and a relentless stream of media attention. It’s pretty fair to say that now we all know who Michael Sam is. As the talking heads have continued to prattle on about Sam, an interesting narrative has developed. And that narrative is that despite being named a first team All-American and SEC co-Defensive Player of the Year after his standout season, Sam is an overrated, not very good football player whose stats are artificially inflated and probably will not be drafted.
Following Sam’s announcement, sportswriter Peter King penned a column in which he allowed all of his sources to speak off the record in an effort to gain more honest feedback. One of the anonymous GMs King spoke to had this to say about Sam:
“First of all, we don’t think he’s a very good player. The reality is he’s an overrated football player in our estimation. Second: He’s going to have expectations about where he should be drafted, and I think he’ll be disappointed. He’s not going to get drafted where he thinks he should.”
The more telling thing, at least for a lot of people, that lends credence to the idea that it’s not his football prowess that is really the problem but his sexuality is the rest of the anonymous GM’s quote:
“The question you will ask yourself, knowing your team, is, ‘How will drafting him affect your locker room?’ And I am sorry to say where we are at this point in time, I think it’s going to affect most locker rooms. A lot of guys will be uncomfortable. Ten years from now, fine. But today, I think being openly gay is a factor in the locker room.”
Following that column, more and more sportswriters and talking heads began parsing Sam’s career and the narrative shifted to his stats being overinflated because he played such inferior competition. In countless columns and sports talk shows around the country, people have been talking about how Sam’s stats are deceptive because he feasted on bottom feeders and stands a good chance of not being drafted at all.
The idea, though, that Sam isn’t a good ballplayer who is simply benefiting from stats compiled against inferior competition is somewhat ludicrous when you consider the fact that scouts and GMs alike are salivating at the prospect of drafting South Carolina‘s Jadeveon Clowney and Sam’s own Mizzou teammate Kony Ealy. Clowney racked up his stats playing against the likes of North Carolina, Vanderbilt and Central Florida and has had questions develop about his work ethic, attitude and willingness to play through pain. And Ealy played the exact same schedule as Sam — the same “weak” schedule Sam is being knocked for.
For that matter, when talking about feasting on bottom feeders, how about Louisville‘s Teddy Bridgewater and Central Florida’s Blake Bortles? Both are widely considered to be surefire top-5 picks with bright futures in the game. But Bridgewater put together his NFL credentials against teams like Rutgers, Connecticut and Memphis while Bortles fattened up against powerhouses like Akron, Florida International and Temple.
When you compare those players, all expected to be very high draft picks with Michael Sam, the “he’s overrated and played against inferior competition” narrative falls apart. So what is the real problem here? What is it that makes those other guys future NFL stars and Sam somebody not likely to get drafted at all? The biggest visible difference is that Sam is gay and the others, presumably, are not.
The Combine is terrific for measuring the measurables like height, weight, speed, agility and mental acuity. What it cannot measure is the size of a person’s heart, his desire to win, his will to persevere and his courage. Coming out before the draft, knowing it would bring a firestorm of attention with it and would likely damage his draft stock, was an act of courage borne of somebody with a tremendous heart, spirit and will.
There are a lot of teams who need a solid character guy who is tough, courageous and just wants to play football and win. A guy like Michael Sam.