Michael Sam, you’re up. To be fair, very little of this is actually about Michael Sam the person. It’s more of the situation surrounding him that baffles me, and here’s why…
1. To the NFL GM’s
The most disturbing thing I’ve heard in reference to Michael Sam coming out before the draft are reports that after his announcement, Michael Sam was taken completely off certain teams’ draft boards.
Really? Absolutely mind boggling.
You’re probably thinking that I might go all moral-ethical/political correctness with this argument, but I’m not. Seriously. Quite the opposite. My feelings on homosexuality are kind of irrelevant to this argument.
I’m baffled here because the guy has had as early as a third-round grade by many scout’s estimations, but most say he had a third to fourth-round grade but some concerns about what position he’d play may drop him to the later rounds.
Having said all that, if that is the case for Michael Sam, and you as a GM took him off your board entirely for any reason post-announcement other than football, I think that’s really stupid.
(some quick highlight tape of Michael Sam)
The best comparison I can draw to what I’ve seen and analyzed from Michael Sam’s gameplay is to Robert Mathis. If I remember correctly, Robert Mathis used to play opposite Dwight Freeney on that old Colts terrifying defensive line. He had a bit of what I call, “occupational ADD,” much like I anticipate Michael Sam will have if/when he breaks into the NFL scene.
His position concerns are legitimate. In college he was clearly big and strong enough to be an NFL defensive end, and in the NFL if he wants to be a defensive end he will probably have to get a bit bigger and a bit stronger to get around super-sized linemen. But if you move him to outside linebacker like the Colts did with (like most expect he will do), he’s going to have to get faster and demonstrate a tremendous ability to adapt and learn a new position. To those who say this is easy, I point you to Mathias Kiwanuka – the monster DE out of Boston College the Giants drafted in the first round of 2006. He had a great year couple years at DE for the Giants, culminating in their first Super Bowl win over the Patriots. But when guys like Kawika Mitchell left for more money and with guys like Antonio Pierce retiring, the Giants realized it would be nice to have four Pro Bowl DE’s (Tuck, Strahan, “Kiwi,” and Osi Umenyiora at the time), but if they could move Kiwi to OLB, it would fill a much-needed hole for them.
While Kiwanuka struggled with his OLB transition, he’s not the same type of player Robert Mathis – and I would argue Michael Sam – is. Kiwi is currently 6’5,” 267 lbs, Sam is 6’2,” 255, and Mathis is 6’2″, 246. Its easier for a guy who is 6’2″, 255 playing DE in college to drop 10-15 pounds, train for speed and agility and make the transition to OLB than a 6’5″ guy who should be playing at 275 to cover running backs out of the backfield.
The Mathis comparisons are striking, and they go deeper. Mathis was even less-known than Sam coming into the draft. Sam went to Mizzou and won SEC Defensive POY, Mathis played for Alabama A&M. Both had or have a mid/late-round projection/grade coming into the draft. Mathis was a project between DE/OLB. Sam will be a project between OLB/DE. During the fifth-round, its hard to call the Mathis pick high-risk (although draft picks are always valuable), but it was certainly an interesting risk/reward debate for all teams. The Colts asked: Can we afford to use a late-rounder for a guy that could give us no production and get cut in three years as he flounders between weights, speeds, and struggles to find a new training regimen, BUT could very possibly be a unique combination of speed and power that we can use on our strong side on and off the line?
For the Colts it paid off tremendously (Mathis finished just behind Luke Kuechly for Defensive POY this year). He’s not the best defensive player in the NFL, but in some ways he’s the most valuable. Luke Kuechly is probably a better overall linebacker than Mathis in the sense that his Madden rating is probably higher, but for a team that struggles defensively like the Colts, I would much rather have Mathis because he can do a bit of everything. His D-Line experience allows him to line up on the LOS in a three-point stance to fake a blitz (on either side, btw – he’s not just a strong side guy), and then drop back into zone coverage on a crossing TE, or spy an option QB, or shoot into the flat to hit a guy like Giovani Bernard on a screen or flare route, or flat out beat a tackle and sack your QB. He can do any and all of those things also lined up as a traditional OLB off the LOS as well. He’s that fast, he’s that strong, he’s that aware.
And that’s what it comes down to with Sam. Can he commit himself in the playbook as much as he’s already demonstrated his commitment to develop physically in the gym and on the field?
If you interview the guy and you think he can, short of bombing in the Combine (which is terribly overrated in my opinion), how do you not take this guy if he’s available in the fifth round? I look at Michael Sam and I see anyone between total bust and Robert Mathis. They’re the same size, they have the same background, the same style of play, and came into their respective drafts with the same grade. The only difference is, Sam played in the SEC on a team that dominated it for most of the year.
Even if Sam tanks, there have been worse fifth, sixth round picks. If you watch the tape and agree with me and say, “Michael Sam has a lot of potential. He could be Robert Mathis, but he could also wind up on punt block for the rest of his career” and then you say, “but he’s openly gay now so lets just take him off our board ENTIRELY” then you’re an idiot. I’m sorry. You just are. I don’t buy the distraction argument. At the end of the day, if you want that dude for your X’s and O’s, you’re a fool not to take him now.
Speaking of distractions…
2. The Distraction Myth and Big Gay Al
You know what good teams care about? Winning football games. Do you know how football games are won? By playing football, on a football field. Really revolutionary stuff here today. Let’s say you think Michael Sam could be Robert Mathis. You think Pete Carroll and the L.O.B. would pass up adding Robert Mathis and a “distraction”? Absolutely not. You think Bill Belichick would pass up on a possible “distraction” if it meant he could help the Pats ball just a little bit better? No. Why? Because they’re what we call good coaches.
Here’s another news flash for GM’s everywhere. Part of your freakin’ job is to deal with distractions. Part of your job is mitigate the distractions and get the best out of the players who may cause them. Quick list of names the Patriots have signed over the past decade that were “troublemakers” or have been associated with being “distractions”:
– Tim Tebow
– Albert Haynesworth
– Chad Ochocinco-Johnson
– Aqib Talib
– Aaron Hernandez
– Randy Moss
You see Belichick understands that it’s part of his job to deal with the media and the distractions rather than just trying to avoid them. The players’ above performance ultimately ranged from insignificant (Tebow, Haynesworth) to legendary (Moss, Gronk). Remember how Belichick handled the Tebow media circus? “Hey guys, we’re here to play football. I’ll answer like, two Tebow questions about what we saw in him as a football player and then we’re going to move on and get the rest of this thing over with so we can go play.” Belichick got Randy Moss for a BARGAIN (a fourth-round pick), he set touchdown records (plural) with Tom Brady, and then dumped him when he was no longer useful to their future.
I can’t stand the Patriots and I have a odd reverence/simultaneous hate for Bill Belichick, but the fact that the Patriots have remained an NFL powerhouse for over a decade is nothing short of amazing in a league with as much parity as the NFL. If he and the New England front office see something they like in Sam, there’s not a chance in the world they shy away from taking him in the fifth round because they’re somehow afraid of the media. It’s absolutely ridiculous.
The real reason I believe we fear the “Michael Sam Distraction” is because of the stereotypes we associate with homosexuality. We see a headline that says, “NFL Draft Prospect Comes Out,” and we immediately picture some circus at minicamp; complete with rabid media reporters shoving microphones in big dudes’ faces saying, “What’s it like showering with Sam? Did he try to look at your penis? Does he make you uncomfortable?” We immediately picture a big gay pride parade with guys in sailor caps and picket signs with rainbows on them cheering Michael Sam on outside the practice field.
Look folks, the reason Michael Sam came out the way he did is not because he wants to be a gay crusader trying to shove the acceptance of his lifestyle down your throat. Watch the interview. He says, “I’m Michael Sam, I’m a football player, and I’m gay.” http://youtube.com/watch?v=LFIjXBjsLHs
He’s trying to say that his sexual orientation doesn’t define him, he wants to just play football without living in hiding for the next 15 years of his life until he retires.
Some of us ascribe the Big Gay Al image to all homosexuals. I can assure you, that’s not who Michael Sam is. He’s a big scary black dude. He doesn’t wear pom-poms and tights. He wears pads and tries to knock you to the ground on his way to your quarterback’s throwing arm.
I guarantee you that the Michael Sam “distraction level” will be no greater than last year’s Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito “distraction” (which is still ongoing by the way) and yet, I think there’s absolutely no way either player is unemployed a year from now. Someone will take them. Why? Because they can ball. If he’s not a Dolphin, some smart coach/GM will snatch up Richie Incognito for a bargain, bring him into the office, grab him by his figurative facemask and tell him to shut up and play. That’s what leaders do. That’s their job.
This is exactly how the Michael Sam “distraction” will pan out:
A team like New England, New York, maybe San Diego (they took Te’o last year) will take Sam in the sixth round. Sam will show up to camp, and at the team’s first official press conference Belichick/Coughlin or whoever the coach is will say, “Look we’re here to play football. I’m here to talk about football. But go ahead and get it off your chest.” They’ll answer a couple of generic, probably even borderline stupid questions about Michael Sam, and then steer the press conference a different way by being so short and awkward with reporters that the press conference becomes counterproductive.
Then it will be Sam’s turn. And every second of his press conference will be aired on every media outlet and subsequently analyzed for the next 48 hours. He’ll talk about wanting to play football, how he’s excited to be a Patriot or Charger or Giant or whatever, and then he’ll go play football. A week later Ray Rice will punch another woman in the face, or Dante Stallworth will run over another person drunk driving in his car, or Dwayne Bowe will get arrested caught smoking weed with his boys or something and everyone will start talking about that again.
The constant “Sam Update” segment on Sportscenter will fade to black and he’ll stop getting his name on the bottom line Tebow did. Then every single one of us that cried distraction will have forgotten all about it.
Does this mean I think the NFL is ready for an openly gay athlete? No. Not everyone is ready for progress. But I like to answer a question with a question when I think a question is dumb. Is the NFL ready for an openly gay athlete? Hmm, well, was baseball ready for Jackie Robinson? Not to say that the Jackie Robinson-Michael Sam comparison is a perfectly good one. Jackie was black, so he didn’t even look like any of the other players he would play with. Sam will. As a matter of fact, Sam looks like many of his teammates, he talks like many of his teammates, and has a similar background as many of teammates.
The notion that our readiness or willingness to accept a person who is different than we are in sports should be based on the percentage of us who are “OK” with it is ridiculous. News flash: there have been gays in the NFL, they did shower with other guys. We just didn’t know about it, the players didn’t know about it, and the gay players lived in constant fear and anxiety.
Which “uncomfortable” should we be more concerned with? Some big football player being “uncomfortable” around someone who is attracted to men, or a player like Michael Sam who has to wake up and go to practice every day still living in the closet, hoping no one finds out who he truly is because it might make them uncomfortable?
You know what would make me uncomfortable? Playing with Ray Rice next year after watching that video, knowing what he did to his fiancé. And yet, in the past week did you hear anyone in the media express concerns for other Ravens players or Ravens fans with their level of “uncomfortableness” with having Ray Rice back next year? Which sound byte from T-Suggs is more likely:
– “Uhh yea, I think what happened between Ray and his fiancé is between them. I think we should all just let the legal situation play out and hopefully that situation heals itself and he’ll be back on the field with us next year.”
– “You know, I’m really not comfortable with having a teammate that beats the s*** out of women. It’s against my religion and stuff, you know, it’s just how I was raised.”
It’s mind-blowing to me that all the sudden NFL players aren’t cool with having a certain kind of teammate because it’s against their religion. Oh really? Like raping a woman in a bathroom, Big Ben? Like killing another dude – or at least watching and blatantly obstruction justice – Ray Lewis? Or drowning dogs, Mike Vick? Or killing, or excuse me, “manslaughtering” people drunk in your car, Dante Stallworth/Josh Brent?
“Oh, you don’t understand, I’m just old school.” Really? Well then maybe the “old school” is stupid and so are you. This notion that big, tough, NFL players will be uncomfortable with “Big Gay Al” and therefore, the NFL is not ready for Michael Sam is ridiculous. It’s time to grow up in the NFL.