Michael Sam is gay. That shouldn’t matter to anybody in the world but we’re about to find out whether it matters to anybody in the NFL.
Sam was a standout defensive lineman at Missouri. In fact, he was the SEC’s defensive player of the year with 11.5 sacks in his senior season. So for anybody who had some preconceived, archaic ideas about what a homosexual athlete must look like or sound like, this should obliterate all those clichés. Sam is 6-foot-2, 255 pounds and led college football’s premier conference in sacks.
Jason Collins, a former Atlanta Hawk and long-time NBA player, announced he was gay in a cover story in Sports Illustrated last April. But Collins was at the end of his career – no team has signed him this season – so the question about how he would be accepted in an NBA locker room never was answered.
Sam’s case has more significance. He has been projected as a mid-round draft pick but he made a conscious decision to come out two months before the draft to reporters from the New York Times and ESPN.
“I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” Sam told the Times. “I just want to own my truth.”
Give him points for courage.
Should this affect his draft status? In an ideal world, no.
Will it affect his draft status? It’s possible.
NFL general managers and coaches don’t care about a player’s sexual orientation. But they’re generally obsessed with locker room chemistry. The sad but undeniable truth is that any team worried about Sam potentially being a distraction won’t draft him.
There’s one major point in Sam’s favor: He told Missouri teammates before last season that he was gay. How did the Tigers react? They went 12-2, including an impressive win over Georgia in Athens, and won the SEC East before losing to Auburn in the conference championship game.
The fact that Sam’s homosexuality is now out in the open will lead to media attention for an NFL team that Missouri didn’t have to deal with. But nobody can question Sam’s teammates supported him. The locker room was fine. The team was fine. There’s no reason why that support shouldn’t carry over into the NFL.