Monday, February 10, 2014

Will Michael Sam's Decision to Come Out Impact His Draft Status?


Good, now that we got that out of the way it's time to admit the sad fact that, according to some NFL scouts, it will.

During an interview on ESPN's Outside the Lines the Missouri Defensive End publicly stated, "I am an openly proud gay man." The comment has garnered a tremendous amount of support for the AP SEC Defensive player of the year, however there are those who predict that ultimately his decision will negatively impact his position in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Sports Illustrated interviewed several executives and scouts who anonymously gave their thoughts on the implications of Sam's decision. The general consensus was disappointing to say the least. Before the announcement Sam was projected as a mid to late round draft pick, those interviewed by SI claimed that his draft position is going to take quite a hit.

One assistant coach believed that Sam's decision was, "Not a smart move" claiming that "You shouldn't have to live your life in secrecy, but do you really want to be the top of the conversation for everything without ever having played a down in this league?"

An NFL scout added,"I just know with this going on this is going to drop him down," said a veteran NFL scout. "There's no question about it. It's human nature. Do you want to be the team to quote-unquote 'break that barrier?'"

Finally, a player personnel assistant brought up a phrase which has been bouncing around the league for years, I don't think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet. 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. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It'd chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room."

Honestly, I can't believe that a league can be this backwards. When a group of veteran members of upper management almost unanimously claim that a league is not ready for a gay player the question must be asked, "when did we teleport back to the 1960's?"

NFL, The Stonewall riots were over 40 years ago! Same Sex Marriage has been legalized in seventeen states. It's time to wake up and realize that regardless of whether this might impact locker room chemistry, upset players, or cause distractions you need to shut up and get in line.

It's a problem when senior executives on teams are the ones perpetuating these messages. What they don't realize is that THEY are the source of the problem. It's not the locker room, it's not other players, it's upper level management, coaches, general managers and owners who for some reason can't let go of their ignorance and bigotry.

Chris Kluwe, an ex-punter for the Minnesota Vikings, made public his support for the gay community last season, and lost his job as a result of it. Kluwe is threatening to sue the Vikings for wrongful termination if special teams coach Mike Priefer, who Kluwe has accused of using homophobic slurs, is brought back by the team.

Vernon Davis was recently interviewed by Larry King. In the interview Davis claimed that he thought that in the next five to six years there will be numerous notable gay athletes in professional sports. Davis even went so far as to suggest that the NFL would be the first place people would see this transition take place.

In fact a total of 62 players have made comments suggesting that they would be in support of having a gay teammate.

Even Terrell Suggs, yes Terrell Suggs, one of the biggest, meanest, scariest players in the NFL has expressed his comfort at having a gay teammate. When asked if it would bother him if a teammate was gay he responded, "Absolutely not." Adding that his current teammates would be fine with it too.

I don't think you'd want to argue with him.
While 62 players aren't representative of the entire league the fact of the matter is that the players opinions don't matter. Yes there may be some players who would be upset in this situation, but players aren't the people who make these decisions.

Player personal decisions are made by upper management, the very people who earlier were saying that the NFL wasn't ready for a gay player. The fact of the matter is that their reasons for Sam's draft stock falling are little more than pointless excuses.

Would it lead to some friction in the locker room? Possibly, but it would vary from locker room to locker room. And more to the point if players have a problem with it, tough. Plain and simple the players are professionals. Consequently, it's their job to go out there and play every week, no questions asked.

If you were to put this situation into any other context it would be laughable. Honestly, think about it. If you show up to work and find that one of your fellow employees was gay, what would happen if you went to your boss and said, "I'm not okay working in this environment because of his sexual orientation." Your boss would laugh at you and have your ass out on the street faster than you can say "discrimination lawsuit." Why do we hold professional athletes to a different standard?

It also seems like the executives are encouraging an approach akin to the (fortunately) recently disbanded "don't ask don't tell policy" that had been in place in the armed forces for two decades. According to those interviewed, Sam's sexual orientation was widely known, they guessed that maybe three teams weren't aware.

It seems foolish that Sam formally outing himself has somehow changed his future in the league if it was already a well known fact. What the NFL is saying is that it's okay for a gay player to compete so long as he keeps his sexuality to himself. Such an approach merely perpetuates homophobic tendencies in America that are finally beginning to erode after years of resistance. Are we still living in a society where we confine gays to "the closet?" Are we so ashamed of our own biases and bigotry that we would prefer just to ignore them?

I'm also sick of the excuse "The NFL is not ready for a gay player." Guess what, in 1947 baseball wasn't ready for a black player. Almost seventy years later if you walk into any ballpark in the country the number 42 is hanging alongside the numbers of the greatest players to ever play the game and Jackie Robinson stands as one of the most well known players ever. Change like this isn't something you're "ready for." There's no loading bar saying, "The NFL's readiness for a gay player is currently at 79 percent." You're ready when someone has the courage to stand up for their values in the face of discrimination. Michael Sam has proved he has that courage, now the only question is which NFL team has it as well?

One of the scouts interviewed asked, "Do you want to be the team to 'break the barrier'" YES, YES YOU DO! This issue is bigger than sports, this is about American culture and society. Jackie Robinson playing first base for the Dodgers was one of the most important victories for the Civil Rights Movement in America. Michael Sam setting foot on the field for any team would be just as momentous a victory for the Gay Rights Movement in America. This isn't something that should happen, this is something that NEEDS to happen.

Ultimately, little will be decided until Draft Day. Michael Sam will become one of the most high profile players in the draft regardless of where he is picked. And the fact of the matter is that he will be picked. Some team will be willing to take a chance on a player who won Defensive Player of the Year honors in the most competitive conference in college football. It will be a tremendous victory and hopefully the start of changing values in the NFL.

But the problem is that Sam's victory over bigotry, over narrow-minded hatred isn't happening because of the NFL, it's happening in spite of the NFL. Many of the coaches and personnel interviewed expressed disappointment in the fact that Sam would be a target of bigotry and discrimination. Ironically they failed to realize that they are the chief source of its perpetuation. It's time for the NFL to wake up and realize that this is happening regardless of their readiness. The only question remaining is whether the NFL can rise to the occasion.

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