With the NFL season coming to a close last weekend, I wondered who in sports would commit some news to keep the media cycle spinning. Well, Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart and NFL prospect Michael Sam both came through for us.
Sam made his announcement through the New York Times in a lengthy feature that paints his coaches and teammates at Mizzou as understanding and supportive. The media reaction was swift and came down on both sides of the aisle. Many feel that Sam’s NFL future will be determined by his play on the field, largely independent from Sunday’s announcement. Others believe he hurt his draft stock and potential opportunities for professional success.
Here are the facts: Sam led the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss. He was voted team MVP by his peers, and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and All-American by the Associated Press.
Sam is seen as a middle-round prospect that could reasonably expect to be drafted before Sunday.
So what happens now?
I see a few things:
Sam will be drafted about where he should be –
This will happen for a few reasons.
First, Sam will answer every question perfectly leading into the draft.
“Do you think you will be a distraction to your teammates?”
“What if a teammate has a problem with you being gay?”
“I’ll talk to him about it, otherwise I’ll let my play speak for itself.”
The second reason is defensive ends who can tackle quarterbacks are always valuable. So there will be interested teams. Remember when Mario Williams was drafted ahead of Reggie Bush? That was a surprise at the time because the public hadn’t caught up to this idea. If Sam proves he is strong and fast enough to disrupt offenses, he’ll be coveted by many teams no matter the media storm it will create. And on that note…
That media “storm” will be a light drizzle –
Manti Te’o’s case is most appropriate here. Between his final game in college and the NFL draft, we all learned about his fake girlfriend, “her” fake death, his actual (male) friend behind the whole thing, and his feelings for Te’o.
With so much uncertainty around Te’o leading into the draft, there were thoughts that he would be drafted later than projected, and it would be a media circus for the team that chose him. Instead, he went to San Diego early in the second round, and we barely heard anything about him during the season.
I mean, Sam is gay. At this point, everyone knows a gay person, and we can all agree that they hate Mondays, parking tickets, and paper cuts just like the “rest of us.” Right?
Once ESPN and other networks realize being gay isn’t news, they’ll stop covering it. That will happen quickly.
Sam will do everything Jason Collins was supposed to –
This one is interesting because the blueprint should have already been written. Collins made an announcement similar to Sam in Sports Illustrated. I wrote about the tepid reaction at the time.
That Collins hasn’t been signed by a team since is tricky. While most gay athletes have come out after their career, Collins was simply on his way out. He could have expected to receive an offer to sit on the end of a team’s bench (which he openly campaigned for)…but he might not be signed at this point anyway. He was the worst player rated on NBA 2K13 after all. Maybe its discrimination, maybe its turnover. It’s hard to separate the two.
Sam on the other hand is as good today as he’s ever been, and will improve with better coaching, facilities, and more experience. It’s inconceivable that all 32 teams will ignore his talent, so he will be the pioneer Collins considered himself at his announcement. Ultimately, this won’t change business as usual for Sam or the NFL.
I don’t mean to say that Sam’s career will be exactly the same. There are idiots everywhere among us. Just check Twitter or the comment section of any related article. Thankfully, those idiots are in the minority. Plus, the team who employs Sam will be happy if he helps them win. Being gay is a distant second to sacks in this case.
What do you think? Does Sam’s announcement change his draft position or future in the NFL? Would you think twice about taking him in the fourth round? What if he were in the running for the top pick?
Hit the comments and let me know what you think!