Former NFL punter Chris Kluwe believes that, when it comes to linebacker Michael Sam, “distraction” is code for intolerance. Jon Stewart of The Daily Show sees the use of the term in this specific context as irony.
“No pro team wants the type of controversy having a gay player is going to cause,” Stewart said on Monday night’s episode, via Deadspin. “If he had just been convicted of DUI vehicular manslaughter or obstruction of justice in connection with a murder or accused of sexual assault or screamed the N-word at a concert or killed a bunch of dogs and buried them in his f–king yard, you know, NFL material.”
With each example, a photo of a specific player was displayed, from Donte’ Stallworth (DUI manslaughter) to Ray Lewis (obstruction of justice in a murder case) to Ben Roethlisberger (accused of sexual assault) to Riley Cooper (screamed the N-word at a concert) to Mike Vick (dogs). The point is a strong one; teams have tolerated all sorts of distractions by giving “second chances” to players who have committed or been accused of committing inappropriate or criminal acts. So why should being openly gay undermine Michael Sam’s first chance?
Each of the men listed above created distractions, and yet they all received opportunities to keep playing. The short-term distraction created by the arrival of Michael Sam could be more significant because, unlike players committing criminal acts, an openly-gay player is unprecedented for the NFL. But the idea that it’s less problematic to welcome a man who engaged in a six-year lifestyle of illegal gambling and dogfighting to a team than it is to embrace a man who is merely being candid with the world about his identity is troubling — and hopefully temporary.
For star players like Lewis, Roethlisberger, and Vick, it’s easy to look the other way, because they are good players. Stallworth and Cooper were given refuge despite being replaceable. And some men with disturbing backgrounds continue to churn at the bottom of NFL rosters.
Defensive back Perrish Cox allegedly raped a woman after she had passed out in his apartment, avoiding conviction despite telling police he didn’t have sex with the woman and then matching the DNA of the fetus who was growing in her womb. Shunned for a period of time until the headlines faded, Cox recently has been bouncing between the 49ers and the Seahawks.
NFL teams deal with all sorts of issues and problems and challenges and distractions, all in the hopes of finding the best players to help win games. Sure, having Sam on the team will result in extra media coverage, for a while. But media coverage is part of life in the NFL. Isn’t it better to have extra media coverage for doing something progressive and tolerant than for finding a way to excuse the bad behavior of a good player?