I'll admit-- I had no idea who Michael Sam was before Sunday night. I probably should have. He was, after all, the AP Defensive Player of the Year in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). The SEC is regarded as the best football conference in college football. The SEC features power house college teams like Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn, and Tennessee, among others.
Sam played for Missouri. Sam is a defensive lineman. Sam hopes to play in the NFL this fall. Sam is also gay.
It was only a matter of time before a professional athlete "came out." Sure-- NBA player Jason Collins came out saying he was gay last April. But his NBA career was, basically, over.
A New York Times article just two months ago estimated anywhere between 2 percent and 10 percent of the population is gay. There are roughly 1700 NFL players. That would mean anywhere between 34 and 170 players are gay. We don't really suspect Sam will be the only one, do we?
Unlike Collins, Sam took the courageous step to make the announcement before he begins his NFL career. In fact, the NFL Scouting Combine is set to begin in just a couple of weeks. During the combine, NFL scouts break down every aspect of a player- how fast he can run, how high he can jump, how long his wing span is, and, yes, his personal background. No stone is left unturned.
Sam is projected to be drafted somewhere in the second or third round. Maybe I should say, he was projected to be drafted in the second or third round. It makes sense. He was the SEC defensive player of the year, after all.
He is a bit undersized, however, to play defensive end at the next level. He is listed at 6-foot-2, 260 pounds. But that is not the reason he may slip in the draft now. No, the reason he may slip is because he is gay.
Sam's admission could, likely, cost him money. A second-round draft pick would be in line for a bigger contract than, say, a fifth- or sixth-round draft pick. Sam could have waited until he was drafted and established in the league.
Peter King in his "Monday Morning Quarterback" column says he spoke to one NFL general manager, on the condition of anonymity, who believes Sam wouldn't even be drafted. That is absurd.
Maybe we haven't come as far as a society as we think. Gays are allowed to be married in several states now. One of the best television shows of the last decade, "Modern Family," prominently features a gay couple. A daytime soap opera, "Days of Our Lives," features a young gay couple. NBC had a sitcom last year, "The New Normal," which was all about a gay male couple. One of the most popular afternoon talk shows of the last decade has a lesbian host, Ellen DeGeneres.
So what is the problem here? Just last week, during the Super Bowl, people were talking about a Coca-Cola commercial which showed, for a split second, a gay couple dancing with a child. Now people are talking about Michael Sam.
Is it because it is football? Maybe only hockey is considered more "macho" of a sport. It is not a big deal if a figure skater comes out as being gay. It wasn't that big of a deal when the greatest United States Olympian diver "came out."
I don't know. Quite honestly, I have more of a problem with women reporters being allowed into all-male locker rooms. I am old enough to remember 1990 when then-Patriots reporter Lisa Olson accused Patriots players of sexual harassment in the locker room.
Which is not to say I am against women sportswriters. Some of the best sportswriters in the country are female. Jackie MacMullan is one of my favorites. My point is that I don't think it is a big deal having a gay teammate. I'd be more concerned having a murderer for a teammate.
Bottom line is someone will get a steal drafting Sam later in the draft. CSNNE's Tom E. Curran suggests the best landing spot for Sam would be New England. Curran writes the Krafts are "progressive, forward-thinking and promote diversity. And they don't mind a positive headline."
Remember-- the Patriots took a chance on Tim Tebow last summer when no one else wanted anything more to do with the circus that surrounded him. The Patriots have a stable locker room, a winning tradition, and a no-nonsense head coach which would benefit Sam. The Patriots also have a need for a pass-rushing outside linebacker. And isn't that the bottom line?