Our position on an openly gay player in the NFL has been consistent and clear. It shouldn’t matter and, hopefully, one day it won’t.
To get to the point where it doesn’t matter, multiple players will have to come out as gay, the media and the fans will have to work through the new reality, and then eventually we’ll all be used to it and it’ll no longer be a story.
For now, a story it is. And the fact that it’s a story complicates Michael Sam’s situation in multiple ways. While it’s possible that some teams will shy away from Sam because key decision-makers disagree with homosexuality or because the organization fears the locker room can’t handle the presence of an openly gay teammate, it’s also possible that teams simply won’t want the distraction that comes from Tebow-style presence of ESPN at training camp.
It’s also possible that one or more teams will bump Sam up the draft board because the owner perceives a tangible benefit from being the man who embraces Michael Sam.
There’s another dynamic that could affect Sam’s draft stock. If, as many have suggested, Sam has settled in as a mid-round NFL prospect, he falls into the gulf of players who’ll have to fight it out in offseason workouts, training camp, and the preseason, with some making the 53-man roster and plenty getting cut. As one league source explained it to PFT on Tuesday, some teams that would otherwise be inclined to draft Sam will pass, due to a concern that eventually cutting him would spark criticism and controversy.
Sure, hiring Sam would show that there’s no aversion to his orientation. Including him in the final cuts, however, could raise plenty of questions about whether he got a fair shake, whether he was truly accepted by teammates, and/or whether some in the organization were opposed to drafting Sam in the first place, and whether that faction finally won out.
As potential distractions go, that’s definitely a distraction (not code for intolerance, but a real distraction) no team wants.
So whoever drafts Sam needs to be willing to take the heat that would come from cutting him — or able to keep a guy on the roster who based on football abilities as demonstrated through weeks of workouts and practices and preseason games didn’t fairly earn one of the much-coveted 53 spots.
Again, none of this should matter. Eventually an NFL player choosing to be openly gay won’t matter. For now, it will matter to multiple NFL teams in ways that could make it much harder for Sam to get drafted as high as possible, which is the goal of every incoming NFL player.