William C. Rhoden in the NY Times:
A Triumph of Enlightenment … Eventually
Too Long a Wait for Michael Sam at the N.F.L. Draft
By the time I arrived at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan on Saturday, the sixth round of the N.F.L. draft had started, but Michael Sam had still not been selected.
The team that took Sam, an all-American defensive end at Missouri, would be the league’s first to draft a publicly gay player.
No team had raised its hand.
And so it went, Denver taking an Oklahoma linebacker at No. 242, San Francisco selecting a Boston College defensive end at 243, Dallas skipping over Sam again at 248.
This had the makings of a horrible day for a league already up to its eyeballs in moral and ethical questions about the safety and the culture of the sport.
Finally, around 6:45 p.m., Mike Kensil, the N.F.L.’s vice president for game operations, strode to the lectern to make a historic announcement: With the 249th pick of the draft, the St. Louis Rams had selected Sam.
“It was somewhat overwhelming to walk out,” Kensil said after the draft. “I really felt like I was a part of N.F.L. history. It was a memorable moment, and I really felt honored to be a part of it.”
Asked if he was concerned that Sam might not be drafted, Kensil said: “I don’t know if we were concerned about it. He’s a good player. St. Louis realized he was a good player, and they were smart enough to take him.”
Kensil added, “Anytime you get the SEC defensive player of the year in the seventh round, that’s a pretty good pick.”
And that is precisely why the N.F.L. doesn’t get a parade: Sam should have been taken three rounds earlier. You cannot acknowledge the Southeastern Conference as the best college football conference, as the N.F.L. has, and then let one of its top players be drafted behind kickers and players from obscure programs in obscure conferences.
“As is the case in the draft, sometimes players fall,” Rams Coach Jeff Fisher said in an interview with NFL.com. “He fell.”
So why did Sam, a 6-foot-2, 261-pound senior pass rusher, fall?
His off-the-field conduct was apparently stellar: no firearm violations, no driving-under-the-influence arrests, no reports of domestic abuse or barroom brawls. Especially after his mediocre performance at the scouting combine in February, critics said he was too slow to play linebacker in the N.F.L. and too small to be an effective lineman.
Sam may have been overlooked, though, because of his sexual orientation. Even teams that had no problem with Sam’s being gay might have been wary of the possibility of a news media distraction and of a public-relations quandary, real or imagined.
The N.F.L. did the right thing by Michael Sam; I only wish it would have done the right thing a little sooner.
Some people are never satisfied. It’s not enough that Michael Sam got drafted by the NFL, he should have been drafted sooner.
Saturday night on Twitter there were Progs looking for examples of the raging homophobia the media told them to expect in reaction to the news about Sam. Apparently they had trouble finding homophobes because they were launching attacks on gay conservatives and people who merely said they did not care about such an historic event. The worst they could find seems to have been people who thought “The Kiss” was a little too much.
It was quite amusing.
The National Football League is a business. Unlike most businesses, most owners are not satisfied with merely turning a profit, they want to win championships. Owners are wealthy fans, and some of them are willing to lose money in order to win games. More than anything thing else owners and fans want the best players their team can get.
Michael Sam is one of the elites. Millions of young men play Pop Warner and high school football each year. Thousands of young men play NCAA football at one of the 340 Division I schools.
There are 32 NFL teams. The NFL draft has 7 rounds. Including compensatory picks only 254 players are drafted each year. This year, Michael Sam was one of those players.
A cold hard fact is that lot of those players never make it past training camp.
If Sam makes the team and plays for four years he will make a minimum salary of $2,270,496, not counting any other benefits or endorsement contracts he might receive.
If he doesn’t make the team, it won’t be because he’s gay. It will be because he wasn’t good enough. That’s the bottom line.
Many people have been comparing Sam to Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in major league baseball. But if Jackie Robinson couldn’t hit a curveball nobody would have ever heard of him.
I hope for Michael Sam’s sake that all the media attention to his sexual orientation doesn’t interfere with how well he performs on the field.