Finally. We have our first openly gay NFL prospect.
The news broke on Sunday that Michael Sam, Missouri's star defensive end, had come out. Fearing that his sexually was too widely known to be concealed, Sam opted to be proactive and "own his truth". He will head into the combine with the goal of earning a spot on an NFL defense, more likely as a linebacker than as an end.
Up until yesterday Sam was projected to be a third to fifth round prospect. Now the big question is how will his stock be affected by his reveal?
His Mizzou team mates have known for some time that Sam was a homosexual and were unaffected by it. Many, if not most, NFL players and coaches claim that they, too, will turn a blind eye to his sexuality. We already know, however, that the sports media will not.
Michael Sam is sure to get the Tebow treatment.
Wherever he goes the media is going to follow in droves. Sam's performance on the football field is going to be a secondary story for a long time to come. His sexual preference is what is going to draw massive interest from the networks, magazines and newspapers and make things tricky for teams that might otherwise draft him without concern. If Michael Sam's draft stock falls don't blame bigotry, blame the media.
There's a reason that Tim Tebow is covering College Football for ESPN and not occupying a spot on an NFL roster. Teams don't want to deal with the distraction he brings. Tebow is too popular. He's more celebrity than football player and, even though he's still very capable of helping a team, he has been blackballed by the NFL.
It's not just the media onslaught that has Tebow on the outs. It's his fanatical fans. NFL teams are going to face the same with Michael Sams. Because he will be the first active openly-gay player, not just in football but in any pro sport, he is going to attract a massive amount of interest people who may not otherwise be fans of whatever team he winds up playing for. This could be a great thing from a marketing perspective but it could be an absolute nightmare otherwise. It will be a distraction not just for Sam but for his team.
The real trouble with choosing to draft Michael Sam is not going to be the concern that he might be checking out guys' junk in the showers. That kind of small-minded worry is not one that the majority of players and coaches legitimately have. It's going to be that having him on a team is going to detract from what that team hopes to accomplish in practice and on the playing field. That's fair to neither Sam nor the team that might draft him, but it is the reality.
Whichever team takes on Michael Sam is going to need to have a plan in place for handling the fallout. It will have to be an organization with strong leadership and a culture that is not easily rattled. The New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks pop to mind as likely suitors.
Michael Sam is probably going to be drafted later - and paid less - than he would be if he were either straight or closeted. That's not fair - but it is not a matter of discrimination. It's a condition that will created by the very media that will be monitoring how he is treated by the NFL.