Will an NFL owner embrace this “Jackie Robinson moment” and draft gay-rookie Michael Sam?

In a very nice piece recently, Jon Green wrote about newly out-as-gay University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, and offered three reasons why that was a big deal.

Among those reasons was this, which focuses not on the NFL and league policy, but on individual teams’ drafting decisions:

If and when Michael Sam underperforms in the draft, the NFL will take a massive PR hit

… NFL insiders are unanimously saying that Sam’s announcement has hurt his draft prospects. This means that we now have the opportunity for a natural experiment of sorts, albeit an imperfect one. While there are still just under three months between now and draft day, if Sam’s draft stock falls significantly between now and then, the “9th-best defensive end” benchmark set yesterday will be used as a measuring stick. And regardless of how Sam performs in the scouting combine, it will be difficult not to compare where Sam gets drafted to his standing in the mock draft on February 9, 2014.

Say Michael Sam is the 15th defensive end drafted instead of the ninth, dropping him into the 5th or 6th round instead of the 3rd and therefore significantly lowering the value of his initial contract, “Being Gay Just Cost Michael Sam $___” will be all too easy of a story to write. In essence, while reports of homophobia in the NFL are rampant but difficult to substantiate, Sam’s announcement will make it possible to quantify homophobia in the NFL, and this will be a PR nightmare for the league.

I’ll go one better. What if Michael Sam goes undrafted? After all, each team owner with a need at Sam’s position faces a personal Jackie Robinson moment. Who will be the first to draft an openly gay NFL rookie? One of the possibilities, in a decision made not by the league as a group, but team by team, owner by owner, is … no one.

Josh Levin, writing at Slate (my paragraphing):

By declaring that he’s gay before this May’s draft, Sam—projected by many as a third-round pick—is making a brave statement, one that’s also a challenge to the entire NFL. He will not make an announcement about his sexuality after he’s already signed a contract, nor after he retires. Sam wants every pro football decision maker to know he’s gay before he’s even in the league. Sam, then, won’t be breaking down sports’ biggest barrier himself. He’s placed a sledgehammer at the feet of every NFL general manager. Now, who will be brave enough to swing it?

There are 32 NFL teams, and some of them have probably started backing away from that sledgehammer. The Times’ John Branch reports that, prior to Sam’s coming out, various scouts asked his agents whether the player had a girlfriend. Though the NFL declared last year that this sort of discriminatory question is out of bounds, team personnel are either too prejudiced or too dumb to catch on.

It gets worse. In a piece for Sports Illustrated, Thayer Evans and Pete Thamel interviewed eight NFL coaches and executives who anonymously spewed out cretinous, outdated attitudes about sports and homosexuality. “In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game,” said a player personnel assistant, oozing so much anonymous testosterone that it leaks off the page.

“It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.” A former general manager said that homosexuality “will break a tie against that player” in the draft room. “Every time. Unless he’s Superman. Why? Not that they’re against gay people. It’s more that some players are going to look at you upside down. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry in the media is going to show up, from Good Housekeeping to the Today Show. A general manager is going to ask, ‘Why are we going to do that to ourselves?’ ”

The cultural references here—Tom, Dick, and Harry; Good Housekeeping—are telling. …

Read the rest. It’s a thoughtful and interesting piece.

Which NFL owner will step up?

So, who’s going to step up? Which team? Which coach? Certainly not the eight profiled above. Sports owner Mark Cuban might do it, but his team is in the NBA.

Defensive End Michael Sam lays down a challenge to "manly-man" NFL owners. Are they equal to it?

Defensive End Michael Sam lays down a challenge to
“manly-man” NFL owners and execs. Are they equal to it?

So what’ll it be, troglodyte NFL owners? Will you draw straws at the Manly-Man Club because you know someone has to draft him? Will one of you rise above the mud as a person of real vision? Or will you all bail? Remember, before anyone knew he was gay, Michael Sam was projected as a third-round pick. An undrafted Michael Sam will send a stark message. To avoid that message, one owner will have to enter the spotlight of history.

The article mentions Seattle and the Patriots as possibilities. We’ll have to see. About the Patriots, the article says:

The Patriots …are known for seizing undervalued assets in the draft, players that other teams unfairly underrate. New England owner Robert Kraft, too, has said he’d be happy to have a gay player on his team.

So maybe the number of teams who want to draft Michael Sam is not zero after all. If so, good for them.

Michael Sam has done this really well, laid down the challenge perfectly. Well played. But if you follow Missouri football, you already knew he could play.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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