The first openly gay NFL player? Maybe not
Michael Sam, the University of Missouri defender and all-American who announced last February that he was gay, may have a hard time hooking up with an NFL team.
With all the frenzy over the first two days of the NFL draft, Sam appears to have been lost in the shuffle. He has yet to be chosen through the first three rounds and some scouts are saying there's a chance he won't be picked at all.
Not because he's gay - but because he isn't good enough.
The NFL draft — the league’s Radio City-staged, nationally televised, endlessly hyped off-season spectacle — opens Thursday night, and for the first time an openly gay player will be waiting for a phone call.
But it could be a long wait for Michael Sam, the University of Missouri defender and all-American who came out in February. Draft analysts say he might not be selected until the last picks are made on Saturday — and perhaps not at all.
If that happens, Sam could still sign with a team as an undrafted free agent and play on Sundays this fall. But it would pose a public-relations problem for the NFL, the most profitable league in America, which has never had an openly gay player.
“For them not to select him would be very problematic,” said Cyd Zeigler, the founder of OutSports.com, which published an insider account of Sam’s coming out three months ago. Fairly or not, he said, “If he isn’t selected, it’s a public black eye on the league.”
And so, it's come to this. A pro sports league will be criticized because a guy who isn't qualified to play isn't drafted. Forget whether he has the speed, strength, and athleticism to compete and contribute to the team. That is secondary to the fact that he's gay and in order to "prove" the NFL's diversity, he must be given a coveted slot in the draft, denying someone who is just as worthy of consideration as Mr. Sam.
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle both offered praise on Twitter, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell welcomed the announcement as a chance for the league to demonstrate its commitment to diversity.
At the time, Sam seemed an almost certain draft pick. But his stock dropped after what analysts said was a disappointing performance at the NFL combine, where players take physical and mental tests in front of coaches and scouts.
“I think he’s going to go late, and it has nothing to do with the storyline,” Jon Gruden, the former NFL coach and ESPN “Monday Night Football” analyst, said Thursday on MSNBC. “I think it has to do with his performance at the combine.”
Nate Silver of the prediction site FiveThirtyEight.com, earlier this week put Sam’s chances at “no better than 50-50,” based on an analysis of players rated similarly by media draft projections.
Professional sports may be one of the last bastions of pure meritocracy in the country. You can either perform and contribute to victory or you can't and contribute to defeat. It doesn't get much simpler than that. There's too much money at stake for teams to involve themselves in "social experiments" and "diversity" drives to fool around with drafting a player who might not be capable of playing in the league.
I wish Mr. Sam the best. I hope he's drafted - just as long as it's for the right reasons, and not because he is a totem for the gay rights movement.