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

  1. MJL says:

    I think San Francisco might go for him too. my bet is that the more gay-friendly states would be the first to step up. if not, then I don’t know what to say

  2. goulo says:

    Tangentially, I just stumbled upon an good dissection of hypocritical privilege in a political cartoon about this news story. (Although the comic is based on the news about football and Michael Sam being gay, the accompanying analysis is about white privilege.)
    See also:

    Cf some conservative media outlets which like to have a token gay person who poo-poos gay rights.

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  4. mirror says:

    Sam is an inspiration, not for what he did this week, but for what he did a year ago that he knew was setting him on the path that made this week inevitable. Really gutsy kid. And a shout out to his teammates and coaches at Missouri for being upright human beings without a lot of compromise and half-assedness.

  5. mirror says:

    I think there are a lot of legitimate football questions that could put Sam in the 5th or 6th round. I haven’t heard many people put him as a slam dunk starter and many analysts had him more toward the 15th in his position, before his announcement, with a certain projection as at least a special teams player. But he is also the kind of player that some teams might take a liking to and grab much earlier. I don’t agree with putting the outrage bar at anywhere farther down than the 3rd round. Farther than the 6th? Absolutely. On the other hand, it is a good time to be an award winning defensive player, after what the Seahawks’ D did to the Denver Broncos.

  6. Ninong says:

    Maybe he will be an inspiration to certain other NFL players who are currently officially closeted.

  7. Ninong says:

    I think he will be drafted and probably by a team in a city like San Francisco, where having the first openly gay NFL player would be seen as a plus. I have no doubt that if he does reasonably well, he will be showered with endorsement opportunities like no other rookie in the league.

  8. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    The impact of Sam going undrafted (or drafted very late) is something that the NFL needs to be scared of. After Ayedebajo and Kluwe, it would be another, and much more obvious case that the NFL is engaging in employment discrimination. Here’s my guide to the draft
    Round 1-3. Congratulations are in order.
    Round 4. Minor grumbling addressed to the teams not drafting them.
    Round 5. Major grumbling as well as pointed criticism directed at the team not drafting him, including opposition to bond issuances and taxpayer subsidies for new stadium expansions.
    Round 6. See Round 5 plus calls to investigate the teams not drafting him for violation of employment discrimination laws in many cities. Calls for a serious investigation to the employment practices of the teams as far as the lack of openly gay scouts, general managers, and other football staff.
    Round 7. Major condemnations should be leveled at every team
    Undrafted. Round 7 plus lawsuits in cities that have laws prohibiting the cities from contracting with entities that discriminate challenging NFL teams’ leases at city owned facilities.
    Sam is the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. He is an Unanimous first team All American. He’s qualified.
    If the NFL thinks that it will avoid a media circus by not drafting him, they are sorely mistaken. I’m not sure the voters of LA will be really interested in paying for stadium improvements to get a team back there (as is the goal of the NFL).
    I think the NFL does the right thing, which is to not downgrade his draft status because he came out. But it does bear watching.

  9. GaiusPublius says:

    Very smart analysis, allen. Thanks.


  10. allen says:

    This was a smart move by Sam – his stock was already falling because of the rumors (allegedly – all but two to three teams already suspected). Not only is it the right thing to do (taking the high road by being up-front), he put the NFL in a box. If no one steps up, they will have a PR disaster on their hands – there are simply too many people who are gay or related to gay people that NFL will offend if he drops below the fourth round. The NFL has a big publicity problem with the concussion issue right now, they could use some positive publicity. There are a few “go to” teams in the league. New England is the first, Pittsburg is another, and Seattle is likely becoming one (“Model franchises”). If need be, one of these teams will step up. However, another team may step up before them – you never know what scandals are brewing and which team needs a “get out of jail free card” (think the Dolphins with their locker room issues). A team already on the hot seat that steps up may find any league sanctions/penalties less harsh than they otherwise might be.

  11. jharp says:

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

    I think so. Cool dude that Michael Sam.

    Good for him. I wish him the best. Courageous man who just made a whole lot of young people feel a lot better about themselves and give them the confidence to reach for the stars.

    A great American.

  12. Indigo says:

    A growing wave of liberalism swept the nation in those halcyon days of yore when Jackie Robinson was playing ball. Nowadays, not so much.

  13. Monophylos Fortikos says:

    Nah, baseball will always be more intrinsically interesting than football. It’s a fixed property of the rules of the game.

  14. perljammer says:

    “… in football once the score’s too unbalanced you might as well go home”

    Only true football fanatics should ever go to the trouble and expense of attending an NFL game in the flesh. I will stipulate that exciting moments are few and far between in professional football games; having said that, if you really think baseball is more exciting than football, you need to take a little more data.

  15. Thom Allen says:

    Yeah, that “Do you have a girlfriend?” question is obnoxious, irrelevant and uncalled for. I’d have to reply, “Don’t need one, your wife is an awesome lay!”

  16. Thom Allen says:

    But there’s always the halftime show. Some of the marching bands make up for the plays. Maybe some good fireworks, too.

  17. Monophylos Fortikos says:

    I’ve seen exactly one American football game live and it was boring as hell. At least with baseball there’s always the chance of a last-minute comeback but in football once the score’s too unbalanced you might as well go home. The only memorable thing that happened was that some drunken Kansas City fan a few rows down from me got ejected from the stadium.

  18. cole3244 says:

    if an nfl team signs him i hope its one with an owner that has shed the neanderthal tendency most seem to have.

  19. Blogvader says:

    I’m certain he will be. I’d wager it’ll be the New England Patriots or Pittsburgh Steelers, given that those teams are owned and managed by largely progressive people.

    And, even though I said it all day yesterday, it bears repeating. I am so proud to be an MU alumnus. Ten years ago we were fighting to get LGBT people included in the university’s non-discrimination policy, and today, the first openly-gay pro football player is one of our own.

  20. karmanot says:

    As far as I’m concerned the NFL could sink into the sea and drown, but then we would miss Beounce giving live birth during the opening dance of the Super Bowl

  21. chris10858 says:

    I think whenever a player or coach makes statements like, “we’re not ready yet for a gay player… maybe in 10 years or so..” then we need to call each of these people out and remind them similar things were said when Jackie Robinson made his entrance into the MLB. I think when players that say this who are also themselves persons of color, we need to remind them the same things were said about allowing black men into the locker room.

    Also, I think we need to put pressure on the NFL and team owners. If their scouts are asking about a person’s sexual orientation, then we need to find out which ones are doing this and call them out on it. We need to shame the team owners and managers into forcing them to fight over this guy in the draft.

  22. dcinsider says:

    Go Pats!

  23. Hue-Man says:

    The average age of NFL players is surprisingly low (at least to me), ranging from the geriatic crew of the Detroit Lions at 27.15 to the spring chickens of the St. Louis Rams at 24.98. http://ftw.usatoday.com/2013/09/nfl-teams-ranked-by-average-age/

    Although you can quibble about average vs median and stars vs bench-warmers, this tells me that the player generation is likely to be more accepting of LGBT than either the coaches or even worse, the owners. Keep this in mind when you see some 50-something complaining about how uncomfortable he would feel, etc. Consider, instead, the reaction of his Missouri team-mates to his coming out – it’s more representative.

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  25. Mike_H says:

    If he does get drafted by the Patriots — and a lot of us are quite excited about the possibility — I don’t think you’ll see a lot of homophobia exhibited by Pats fans. Even most conservative voters in Massachusetts are not particularly homophobic any more.

  26. I am betting a majority of NFL teams will not pick him up but a few smart ones will battle for him.

  27. FUFatherEisenman says:

    I hope it goes better than when the Tampa Bay Bucs drafted Doug Williams. Man, the racist comments that were hurled by the fans was unbelievable. I sure hope they have grown since then.

  28. Bose says:

    Doesn’t the NFL, in the same vein as its initial tweets, have the opportunity, if not the obligation, to go on record with something like the quotes attributed to team execs by SI do not reflect the core values of the NFL. We do not discriminate. We do not make excuses about “manly-men”. Our players, coaches and executives are pros here for one reason only: the game,

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