The returns would seem to be in regarding the NFL’s acceptance of University of Missouri senior Michael Sam, the league’s first openly gay player — or at least the man who would be the league’s first openly gay player if he’s drafted in May.
Shannon Sharpe, former All-Pro and now commentator for CBS Sports, tweeted, “I don’t know Michael Sam but I think he wants to be known as a gr8 FB player, that happens to be gay.Big ups M.Sam, make us proud.”
Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams told his followers, “I could care less about a man’s sexual preference! I care about winning games and being respectful in the locker room!”
Tiki Barber commented, “Great courage by SECDef POY [in English, that’s Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year]. It’s time for the NFL to show its colors!”
And the NFL did show its colors, sort of.
The league released this statement through a spokesman:
“We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage. Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”
The statement meant more than meets the eye, given that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s brother is openly gay.
But it would have meant more if Goodell had made the statement himself.
It’s fair to be curious as to why the most powerful man in the most powerful league in sports didn’t call his own number on this one instead of handing off to a subordinate.
For that matter, where are the NFL’s biggest names? On Monday, Monte Burke wrote on Forbes.com that “[t]he best fits for Sam and the attention that will come with him will be those franchises that are stable and have very strong leadership on and off the field.”
The teams Burke cites include the Patriots — particularly because “Tom Brady, the veteran quarterback, is a vocal and demonstrative leader on the field and in the locker room” — and the Broncos, because “Peyton Manning is the undisputed leader of the team and a man who handles the media very well. If he tells the team to keep their focus on football, they will.”
I think Burke is right, but so far the two most recognizable names in pro football haven’t spoken up. Neither, for that matter, has the league’s best-known defensive player, Richard Sherman. Just a couple of short weeks ago, Sherman was doing an artful job of fielding questions about being a “thug” and winning new admirers for his articulate refutation of the new racism.
How much it would mean right now if Sherman were to come out and openly support Mike Sam.
And wouldn’t it be nice if Tim Tebow, who weathered some tough press himself, were to speak up to the inevitable backlash by the extreme Christian right, whose strongholds are to be found in the areas where football is most popular.
[Of all people, the player who has been most vocal in his support of Sam is…Richie Incognito, the Miami Dolphins offensive lineman who was suspended last fall for bullying teammate Jonathan Martin: “it takes guts to do what you did.” Incognito tweeted. Well, back at ya, Rich.
— Richie Incognito (@68INCOGNITO) February 10, 2014
The Daily News‘ Ebenezer Samuel is likely right when he wrote yesterday that “[w]hen the Scouting Combine circus hits Indianapolis next week, expect plenty of applause from league execs for Sam…they’ll tell you that the league is ready for this, that Sam won’t be evaluated any differently than other draft hopefuls.
“And then they’ll all do something else entirely.
“‘You know what’s going to happen,’ one prominent NFL agent said. ‘Everyone’s gonna say ‘It’s not gonna affect our evaluation at all.’
“But what they’re going to say on the record and what they’re gonna do is two different things.”
Forget the league statements released last night; one agent still describes the NFL as “homophobic.'”
Of course, that agent wasn’t referring to ESPN commentator Herm Edwards, but the former New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs coach’s incoherent babblings on ESPN drew critical tweets from public and press alike. Among other things, Herm suggested that any team that drafted Sam would be “bringing baggage into your locker room.”
Sure, Herm: A league that has recently managed to survive players involved in murder, bullying, and suicide in a stadium parking lot could hardly tolerate “baggage in the locker room.”
To complicate matters, some issues that will have an impact Sam’s draft status are not at all related to his sexual orientation. He played defensive end at Missouri, and at 260 pounds, he’s a little small to play that position in the NFL. In fact, right now there aren’t any starting NFL defensive ends who weight less than 270.
At six-two — actually, six-one-and-a-half, according to Missouri’s 2013 team roster — he’s also a bit short. It has been suggested that, because of his rushing ability, Sam could make an excellent pass-rushing linebacker in, say, a 3-4 scheme that utilizes three down linemen with a big linebacker playing the role of a fourth down lineman.
But this would mean a team taking a chance on drafting Sam and teaching him a new position. Still, Sam was the best defensive player in the strongest conference in college football last year, and it’s impossible to believe that some NFL team in need of defensive help wouldn’t give him a shot.
How about it, Peyton? Looked like your squad could have used a little defensive help at MetLife a couple of weeks ago.