Many of us found it heartwarming when people rallied behind Michael Sam – via Twitter, Facebook and a University of Missouri home game, when students formed a “human wall” between the stadium and Westboro Baptist Church idiots protesting nearby -- when he publicly came out in February.
But when he wasn’t selected in the NFL draft Saturday until the seventh round, 249th overall, by the St. Louis Rams, some uncomfortable squirming began. Was the late draft pick because Sam is gay? Is the NFL not as accepting of openly gay players as they professed to be a few months ago?
Some sports journalist speculate that the NFL narrowly escaped a PR nightmare thanks to the Rams drafting Sam on the last day.
As with many things, however, Sam’s low positioning appears to be annoyingly complex -- and so perhaps shouldn’t be immediately denounced as homophobia in action.
For one thing, at 6’2” and 260 pounds, Sam is somehow (I say “somehow” as someone who knows next to nothing about football and how large players are supposed to be; I’m not implying that it’s a conspiracy) undersized for a defensive end and his “numbers are inflated,” according to an unnamed source (a “veteran scout”) quoted by Sports Illustrated.
Mark Sappenfield wrote for the Christian Science Monitor, “Had Sam been seen as a can't-miss NFL star – someone who could change the shape of a defense – teams could not have avoided taking him. But most agree that his stock was hurt at least as much by his poor performances in the scouting combines and pro days as by his coming out.”
In a column for Forbes.com, Patrick Rishe wrote:
“Greg Bedard of MMQB offers a well-argued critique of Mr. Sam’s final year at Missouri, and reasonably suggests various things that ultimately may have negatively impacted teams’ perceptions of his ability…including reduced performance against better teams during the latter half of the 2013 season, benefiting from a strong supporting defensive cast at Missouri, and potentially lacking a natural schematic fit between his style of play and what teams need;
- As these statistics show, his measurables at the NFL Combine were sub-par…which historically has a negative impact on a player’s draft stock."
Rishe goes on to point out though that a teams’ unwillingness to deal with the media coverage of having the first openly gay player in their ranks could have been a factor.
Personally, I’m baffled as to how media attention could be bad for a sports team, so maybe some of you can enlighten me.
Our own Bryce Rudow had a rather grave prediction for how Sam’s announcement would affect his position in the draft in a February Banter piece:
“Sure, while NFL public relations head Greg Aiello tweeted, 'We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage…we look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014,' and NFLPA president Domonique Foxwroth says that 'the union will accept him with open arms, as will our players,' this is still a league that had multiple closeted athletes supposedly back out from a decision to come out together just as recently as last spring. The negative ramifications were just too great for these players…and that really sucks. ...
...the league and its teams have shown their true colors in a more subtle but more important way: by letting Sam’s draft stock plummet.”
Jarrett Bell’s piece for USA Today noted, though, “Just check out the history. Players who perform to the level of Sam's production against SEC competition get drafted. It's as simple as that. Sam deserved to get drafted.”
We need only look to Twitter of course, to see what ’Murca’s lowest common denominator thinks of how Sam reacted to the call from the Rams, i.e., “The Kiss.”
A thrilled, grateful and, probably, relieved Sam, kissed his boyfriend and playfully squished cake in his face upon receiving the call from the Rams.
Within seconds, “eww” and “I don’t need to see that” tweets arose from society’s depths.
Scott Walker issued this amusingly “duh” memo regarding the backlash:
“Leave it to the NFL draft to bring out the worst in some current and retired NFL players. Memo to you all: In case you haven’t figured it out, when something noteworthy or historic happens — like the St. Louis Rams drafting the NFL’s first openly gay player – the media is looking for a reaction. We know you’re going to react. If you react in a negative way, it WILL blow up in a bad way and reputations will be tarnished.”
Derrick Ward, former NFL running back, tweeted “Man U got little kids lookin at the draft. I can't believe ESPN even allowed that to happen.” Then he started unfollowing anyone who expressed disapproval of his homophobic remarks.
Not to be outdone, Miami Dolphins player Don Jones tweeted “OMG” and “horrible,” Sappenfield reported. The tweets were later deleted.
“Now Jones’ and his team are taking heat and his general manager is being forced to speak about the issue, distracting from the Dolphins’ draft,” Walker wrote.
What’s interesting about many of the comments is not that some people were grossed out by seeing men kiss or even that they felt comfortable posting about their annoyance via Twitter -- that was as predictable as it was sad and annoying -- but that there some people who expressed sentiments along the lines of, “Being gay is fine but little kids don’t need to see that on TV.” Or as one person put it, “ESPN showing Michael Sam being drafted & his reaction is great & all but showing him kissing his boyfriend on national tv is a bit too far.”
I really hope that some of these people might eventually realize that no, you do not, in fact, think being gay is ok if you say things like this.
“Gay is fine as long as you don’t have to see, like, evidence of any gayness” is the same as INTOLERANCE.
You can’t accept homosexuality in theory; you’re either accepting of gays or you’re not. Telling gay people that children shouldn’t be subjected to their lifestyle is insulting to them, no matter how much you tell yourself that you’re “just thinking of the children.”
It took balls for Sam to come out before the draft. I hope his nerve and strength continue to pay off for him, the NFL, and for all of us.