At first blush, the news that draft prospect Michael Sam is openly gay could cause his draft stock to fall because, all things being equal, teams will be more inclined to opt for a player who won’t be bringing extra media attention and news trucks and all the stuff that goes along with having a player who has a high profile for something other than his football abilities.
But while some teams will indeed shy away from the potential distraction this can bring, some teams also could opt to embrace the situation.
Every year, there’s at least one team that volunteers for HBO’s Hard Knocks, even though most don’t want the distraction that necessarily comes from having the NFL Films cameras and microphones infiltrating all aspects of training camp. The teams that volunteer are willing to overlook the negatives because they believe the potential positives outweigh it.
Sam’s presence will attract extra attention for a team that may not have a national following. His jersey will sell. Aggressively. The league office will surely look favorably on the franchise that gives Sam a shot — especially if he starts to slide on draft weekend.
For some franchises, a potential “distraction” could be a useful diversion. As the Redskins continue to fight the appearance of outdated thinking reflected in the team’s name, surely one of the franchise’s high-priced P.R. gurus will suggest drafting Sam as a way to show that the organization isn’t as backward as those attacking the name would suggest. Likewise, if Ted Wells’ report regarding the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito situation paints the Dolphins’ in a negative light regarding issues of bullying and harassment, welcoming Sam to the organization via the draft could help reverse that perception. Ditto for the Vikings, who face an ongoing investigation regarding the alleged use of homophobic comments by special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer.
Also, just is it would be naive to assume some teams won’t avoid Sam, it also would be naive to assume that there won’t be at least one owner who sees himself as a potential modern-day Branch Rickey.
Ideally, Sam won’t be drafted or not drafted because of his sexual orientation. Ideally, it won’t be an issue at all during the draft or at any other time in his career.
But we need to be realistic. Some teams will shy away from Sam. But some could actually gravitate toward him, for reasons unrelated to his actual football skills.