Michael Sam Plays Good Football – Oh And He’s Gay.

Football — By on February 10, 2014 at 11:22 PM

Michael Sam’s national coming out took me back to a favorite TV show, the quirky sitcom SOAP. (Dating myself here.)

In 1977, the comedy featured Billy Crystal as one of the first gay main characters on network TV. His first boyfriend on the show was Dennis Phillips, the hot pro football quarterback portrayed by Olympian Robert (“Bob”) Seagren. Dennis loved Jodie fiercely but needed to ultimately wed a woman for his image. At the time, Dennis knew that the sports world wouldn’t be accepting. There’s a poignant breakup scene that happens, if my memory serves me correctly and it may not, in the locker room right before a media blitz.

Michael Sam is a football player first, wearing that special #52.

Michael Sam is a football player first, wearing that special #52.

So now, nearly thirty years later, defensive lineman Michael Sam announced his sexual orientation in the national media weeks before the NFL draft. The football locker room will finally open up to a gay player, a teammate who dates other men and doesn’t choose to have fake dates or cover wives. Sports fans expected this day to arrive soon. Responses have ranged from praise with open, welcome arms from some players to anonymous execs saying that the league isn’t ready, to folks who still wonder if gay football players jump other guys in the shower. (No they don’t.) The projections are positive because the kid is a badass football player who rocks it on the field in that special #52 jersey. But we’re kidding ourselves if we think that all locker rooms are equal.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

What we do know is that draft order, team needs and owner preferences will always be the primary factors in player selection. Sam is a top defensive prospect who plays the game like a beast. The first-team All-American stands at 6’2″ and weighs 260 pounds and earned AP Defensive Player of the Year for the SEC.  Many locker rooms won’t lose out on that type of talent no matter who he sleeps with at night. Others wouldn’t touch him if he were the second coming of Mean Joe Greene. This may be one league, but each team has its own culture and some are far more stable than others.

Last week on Game Changers Live, Angela Taylor and I discussed the difference between the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills locker rooms for Marshawn Lynch.  The running back found a security and acceptance that let his play speak for him. Contrast that with the drama in two Florida locker rooms – Miami Dolphins and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – and we see that location is everything. Sam would probably do just fine in an accommodating system like Carroll’s in a city that’s more progressive than most. Apparently, execs from the Patriots, Broncos and Packers have said that they’d draft him given the chance. That makes sense, as those teams have solid control and strong team culture. Sam may have a much harder time in a system that abides by a macho, my-way code that expects everyone to fall in single file.

What we do know, also, is that he was emboldened and strengthened by the maturity of his college team. Gary Pinkel created an environment safe enough to support his decision and still allow him to perform on the field to the best of his ability. You can’t beat that.

LISTEN: Gary Pinkel Interview on Mike & Mike 2/10  [SideNote - I was happy to hear that Pinkel has respect for women as one of his four rules.]

We’ll have to wait and see how Michael Sam’s NFL career plays out. He’s a young man determined to enter the league on his own terms. Regardless of his tackle record by the time he retires, Michael Sam has changed the game.

 

Will he last in the league? What team would be best? Give us your feedback. Send an email to fanhood@ sidelinepass.com.

 

 

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4 Comments

  1. Sheree Tribbitt says:

    I am definitely proud of Sam for “owning his truth”
    and controlling his story. I wish that he didn’t have to.
    I am left-handed and have curly hair. This is
    my truth and is as relevant to my employment
    as Sam’s sexuality should be to his. I admire
    his bravery and the concomitant
    financial impact. His draft stock will drop for sure.
    But cravenness works both ways, and someone
    will draft him, at bargain basement rates.

  2. Toni Long says:

    Great article! I can’t wait to see who drafts him and how that team is better for it! That will put most of these issues to rest. He’s gay. It has NOTHING to do with his ability to play football. At the end of the day, I hope his on-field play is what we find ourselves talking about.

  3. Derrick Richardson says:

    Excellent capsule of an impressive young man. What is really sad about this situation is that I have already heard many lukewarm assessments of this kid’s playing ability by several “experts”. It kills me when bigots use smokescreens to cloud the truth and serve their narrow, selfish needs. Deep down inside, they know it should be about playing football, nothing else. So what do they do? Try to feign an argument that its just about playing football. With an angelic look on their faces and a pathetic monotone delivery. Reminds me a lot of when an old boss of mine, early in my career, thought that there was something very wrong with a young black person with a Stanford engineering degree and a ton of ambition. So he tried to pick at my work and make a case that my performance was sub-par. He got fired. And I got ahead. As a die-hard 49er fan, there is some buzz that we may be interested in this kid:
    http://blog.sfgate.com/49ers/2014/02/10/would-the-49ers-draft-michael-sam/ I would love nothing more than to see him blowing up opposing players alongside Bowman and Willis, the best LB tandem in the NFL. He would fit in great!!! Good luck on draft day and best wishes for a long, prosperous NFL career.

  4. Ira Williams says:

    Great piece, Mia.

    When I heard about Sam’s draft stock falling, the first thing that popped into my head was “Seahawks”. Another overlooked talent with a chip on his shoulder succeeding under a coach who “let’s Sam be Sam”? Done and done.

    While I don’t always agree when people try to label the “Jackie Robinson of XYZ”, I do believe the impact on the game could be similar. Once teams start realizing that locker rooms aren’t imploding because of gay teammates, they will quickly drop their objections, as MLB teams did after JR ate their lunches for a couple of years.

    (Fun fact: 3 of the first Black players in Major League Baseball went on to be HOFers…)

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