In case you hadn’t heard, the St. Louis Rams drafted Michael Sam, making him the first openly gay football player in the NFL. The ensuing reactions over the last few days have been interesting to say the least.
Regardless of how you feel about the subject, it’s always great to see the emotion on draft day when college kids finally realize their childhood dreams. I’m sure it was even more overwhelming for Sam given his coming out prior to the draft and all the attention that brought on. It was certainly big moment both for he and the NFL.
But the question that now looms is: what happens if he gets cut before ever playing in a game?
While Sam may or may not have fallen a couple of rounds because of his coming out, the fact is that he has serious question marks as to whether or not he can be a productive player in the NFL. He wasn’t a first-round talent, and as we’ve seen, off-field issues don’t keep you out of the league if you can play. He had a huge year for the Missouri Tigers in his senior season, but his production was subpar in his first three seasons. At the end of his career, he only averaged around 4.5 sacks a season. He was a solid player, but not spectacular.
Sam also didn’t blow up the combine or wow scouts with his personal workouts. He’s not known for speed or athleticism, which will limit his value at the next level. Sam will have to prove his worth as a valuable situational pass rusher, or he will find himself without a roster spot because the Rams kept a guy who can also help on special teams.
The SEC Defensive Player of the Year certainly deserves a shot in the NFL, but the Rams will be in a tight spot if the time comes when they need to cut him. They will have a PR nightmare on their hands due to the amount of non-football news outlets that will cover his story. He will be the story throughout mini-camp, the summer and training camp. If he gets cut, there will be judgement both from sports broadcasters and those who don’t know the NFL from the NHL.
It will be a media firestorm, to say the least.
Maybe Sam comes in, proves his worth and makes the 53-man roster; but he wouldn’t be the first productive college player to not be able to transition to the next level, nor the first late-round pick to be cut. What will the reaction be then?
My guess is that there will be a gross overreaction as we are prone to in our culture today. People will both believe he’s getting treated unfairly or that he had no place to begin with. Neither view is, accurate but this is the world we live in. The discussion that ensues will have very little to do with football, which is the only thing that matters. If he can play, then he should stay; but if he can’t, he shouldn’t — that’s how simple it should be.
Unfortunately for the Rams, that’s not how simple it’s going to be.