Update: Sam was taken by the St. Louis Rams in the 7th round. He was the 249th selection out of 256.
Missouri All American defensive end Michael Sam, who came out as gay last February, was first thought to be a mid round pick in the 2014 NFL draft. But his performance at the draft combine was a disappointment.
At 6’2″ and 261 lbs, he doesn’t measure up size wise to most pro D-ends. And his 4.9 40 yard sprint is below average for his position. No one doubts his heart, but he doesn’t possess the sheer athleticism coveted by most pro teams.
Consequently, through 6 of the 7 rounds of the draft, Mr. Sam is still available. He may still be chosen, but the NFL is already worried about their image in rejecting 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.” Zeigler likes Sam’s chances on the merits: The players Zeigler has talked to say that “that guy can play,” he said.
Sam was named defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference, the toughest college conference in the nation.
“There is a 99.99% chance @MikeSamFootball will be drafted,” Zeigler wrote Tuesday on Twitter. “I’d say 100%, but have to leave room for war and plague.” He said that he thinks “the gay thing” will probably help with some teams and hurt with others.
Sam wants to be seen as a football player and nothing more. But activists like Zeigler want to make him an issue — as if his gayness should be a determining factor in whether he gets drafted or not. Why should the league get a black eye if a gay player isn’t drafted because — horror of horrors — he isn’t good enough?
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.
If all 32 teams pass on Sam for all seven rounds of the draft, it would at least add a headache for a league already dealing with the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal, a crisis over concussions and regular headlines of player’s running afoul of the law.
Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research at Horizon Media who studies the NFL’s ratings and image, said that a backlash might come not against the league but against individual teams. Those teams might face questions about why they chose, say, a borderline wide receiver over joining with Sam to break a barrier.
Because even a borderline wide receiver — if the team has a need at that position — is better than drafting a slow, underweight, undersized defensive end they might not need.
Professional sports is one of the last bastions of pure meritocracy in America. You can either play or you can’t. Teams spend millions of dollars to evaluate talent and the league sets up the combine to showcase the abilities of college athletes who want to participate in the draft.
The fact is, Sam suffered by comparison to other prospects. He didn’t measure up. And this is going to give a team a black eye for taking a player who can make an impact in lieu of making “history” and taking a player in the name of diversity?
Spare us the sanctimony. I hope Mr. Sam is drafted, or latches on with an NFL team before next season. I just hope he’s chosen for the right reasons and not to avoid criticism and yield to the agenda of the gay lobby.