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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Sam I Am

Former University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam became the first openly gay player to be drafted in the NFL. Sam was chosen by the St. Louis Rams in the 7th round with the 249th overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft. With that, history was made. Let the debating begin.

Draft day is the biggest day in a football player's life. His immediate reaction is perfectly normal. 1
Xs and Os

Prior to Sam announcing he was gay earlier this year, the SEC co-Player of the Year was projected, among a host of draft evaluators, to be as high as a third round pick and as low as a fifth round draft pick. In spite of impressive statistics in the nation’s toughest college football conference, there were legitimate concerns raised about his size translating to NFL-level competition.

Since then, Sam came out. The world reacted. On the field, Sam had a Scouting Combine performance that could only be described as disastrous. He ran a 40-yard dash in over 5.0 seconds, among other concerns. His Pro Day was a bit of an improvement. Still, the potential for distraction in concert with an unimpressive set of job auditions and a lack of stature relative to his position did nothing to push his draft stock up. From a football standpoint, being selected in the fifth round seemed like a ceiling for Sam rather than a floor.

Sam was picked in the 7th round. Considering his football factors and non-football factors (both positive and negative), the 7th round was not a surprising landing spot for Sam.

Sam (52) paid his dues like everyone else to warrant consideration in the draft. 2
The Show

ESPN, the 800 pound gorilla of sports programing, did not waste an opportunity to broadcast a seminal moment. The four letter network televised Sam receiving a call on his cell phone from the Rams informing him that he had been drafted. Sam became emotional and then embraced and kissed his boyfriend, Vito Cammisano. Later that evening, an image of Sam and Cammisano feeding each other cake and kissing with cake on their faces circulated around the Internet.

I would like to think that I have a good pulse of where my position is relative to the mainstream in the sports world and in society in general. I believe my position is pretty middle of the road for a guy in his late 30s. I don’t completely understand the lifestyle, certainly not the attraction, but I do think people are born the way they are. Only a masochist, someone not wired normally for self-preservation, would choose the societal burdens that come with being part of the LGBT community if that same person’s natural inclination is to be straight. I think many (probably most) American men are coming to grips and going along with sincere tolerance (if not acceptance) of and humanitarian respect for the gay community.

All of that said, I think most Americans are stand-offish at best about gratuitous public displays of affection in most situations. I think a lot of people would rather that those displays are done discreetly and privately. Speaking for myself, I could do without seeing two people smearing cake on each other’s faces and then kissing/licking it off (exceptions include weddings, bachelor parties, and two employee-performers at a gentleman’s club).

Factoring in that this exhibit was between two men, when so many in the American mainstream are just beginning to tolerate/embrace/accept the dignity and rights of gay people as being as important as their own, I think that Mr. Sam hurt his own cause. I think he hurt his cause as a football player, as there is minimal tolerance for marginally NFL-level talented players inviting off-the-field attention (potential distractions) into a locker room. I think he hurt his cause for wanting to be treated like any other player because his actions and the coverage it received were unlike any player drafted in the 7th round.

Was this really necessary? 3
Not Everyone is Equal and Life is Not Fair

Let me be clear. If Michael Sam had the pass rushing skills of physical freak-of-nature, genetic lottery winner, and #1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft Jadeveon Clowney, he would not need to tread as carefully as I am suggesting he should. The aforementioned Clowney is a once every several years, transcendent talent. He will single handedly influence the outcome of many games over the course of his career if he lives up to his billing. A person with that level of talent has something that all 32 NFL teams and their fans crave and, quite frankly, can get away with behavior that some may view as off-putting.

That’s capitalism. That’s America. That’s just how it is. People who can deliver more get more latitude in life.

Sam is not Jadeveon Clowney. I am glad the man came out. I believe he has a right to be himself and not have to hide who he is out of fear or for any reason. There is not hiding, then rubbing it in America’s face. If the display of affection witnessed on his draft night was near or over the line for a straight couple, who are otherwise accepted for who they are, giving viewers a double dose of “different” was not in the best interests of understanding and acceptance. Simply put: the cake in front of the camera was completely unnecessary and I think Sam and Cammisano were fully aware that they would be broadcast worldwide immediately.

When you can do this with ease, you can throw the finger more often to anyone who can't accept the real you. 4
Just Because You’re Famous Doesn’t Mean You’re Valuable

When you are drafted in the 7th round, as opposed to the first, second, or third rounds, the team is saying, “You’re worth looking at. You’re worth having in camp. We think you might have more than met the eye of the other 31 teams the first six times around.” That is far from a guarantee of making the team. In fact, that is far from a ringing endorsement that said draftee is a sure fire NFL talent.

The lines separating the rookies who make the team at the end of the roster and those who get cut are slim. Every positive is scrutinized and each negative is just one more reason to release one player and keep another. Sam has already taken the first step toward inviting media distraction into Rams’ training camp. He should wait until after he has played a few productive games in the NFL before taking that second step. Better yet, perhaps he should stand put.  

If ESPN wanted to show people eating a cake, why couldn't they have taken me here on Saturday? 5
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