Is Michael Sam’s Sexuality Affecting His Draft Status?
It’s been less than 24 hours and the accusations are already flying as to whether Michael Sam’s brave move to come out as a homosexual has hurt his NFL draft chances. Sam wrapped up a successful career at Missouri by being name the 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year after recording 11 ½ sacks, with 19 tackles for loss. Stop me if you’ve heard this before but there are three conferences in the NFL: the AFC, NFC, and SEC. Sam’s accomplishments on the field in the toughest conference in college football would seem to merit a high draft choice in the 2014 NFL Draft but let’s look at Sam’s prospects a bit more thoroughly.
Sam has the misfortune of being the typical “tweener” outside linebacker/defensive end coming out of college. Not tall or big enough to be a true defensive end in a 4-3 or 3-4 but also not agile enough to play outside linebacker in either scheme. These sentiments have been supported by one of the most respected men in the player analysis business in the NFL, Gil Brandt. Brandt who now works for the NFL Network tweeted his opinion on where Sam stands:
Michael Sam was not in my top 100 sr #NFL prospects. Player w/out position. Can't play in space, not big enough to play w hand on ground
— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) February 10, 2014
Sam also did not make a favorable impression while playing in the Senior Bowl, which happens to be the most highly regarded college all-star game. The game which is organized and coached by NFL personnel has scouts echoing Brandt’s opinion. Sam was listed by many scouting services as a disappointment during Senior Bowl week as he struggled to make an impact.
Remember, this is the NFL. The sanctity of the locker room is considered essential for team chemistry and unity. The headlines this past season have reflected that, whether you’re discussing the Richie Incognito debacle in Miami or the Riley Cooper situation in Philadelphia or even the simplest player holdout. All of these can rock a locker room turning players against each other and sending a team into disarray. Spending years in and out of locker rooms I can attest that these are the last places on earth where you will find athletes caring about being politically correct. The language and personal attacks levied against each other in jest would make most people cringe. You can also not overstate the fact that whichever team drafts him will have to deal with the media circus that is surely going to follow Sam throughout the 2014 season. These issues will have some teams taking Sam off their draft board.
Regarding the issue of homosexuality, the Minnesota Vikings are dealing with a public battle between ex-punter Chris Kluwe and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer. Kluwe alleges his very vocal stance in support of gay-marriage not only led to his release from the team but he also that Priefer used homophobic remarks during the 2012 season.
All that being said, Sam’s bravery in coming out and his ability to be successful in his collegiate career speak volumes to the man he is. “Tweeners,” have had solid and even exceptional careers in the NFL. Names like Tedy Bruschi, LaMaar Woodley and Adalius Thomas raised concerns about what positions they would play coming out of college. Bruschi was a third-round draft pick, Woodley a second-rounder and Thomas lasted all the way until the sixth-round. All three have had impressive NFL careers, although they did not have the added stigma of being the first player to hold himself out as a homosexual entering the NFL Draft. No matter if Sam is listed as a top 100 prospect or top 200, he will likely be drafted between rounds four and six. He also most likely will slip as teams pass on him when comparing his skills to similar players due to the media frenzy which is sure to ensue. Whichever team drafts Sam will have to be assured that its coaching staff, players and community would be accepting of the pick. They must also make sure he is a good football fit. His future seems to be as a pass-rushing specialist in a 3-4 scheme. It will be up to Sam to prove he is more than that, and also more of a man than those around him as he handles the enormous pressures and challenges that will follow him into the NFL. Sam’s choice to come out has had an enormous impact on society and the world of sports; unfortunately, it also has had an impact on his draft status and at this time it looks to be a negative one.