Happy Tuesday, friends. We've predictably seen some early commentary about distractions, vis-a-vis Michael Sam joining an NFL football team. We've also seen it compared to the Tim Tebow effect, but having lived through that era, I'm going to say that there's no comparison.
Sam will surely draw some extra media attention, but it won't be a lasting story.
As I heard Rich Gannon say on the radio the other day, once the media has asked Sam's 52 teammates how they feel about having a gay teammate, there's no more story to be had. Everybody can just forget about it, at that point, and get on with the business of playing football. Then, the guy will either be a good player, or not, but he'll have a chance to prove himself based on his play.
I think that a good comparison for the Sam media situationwould be to the non-distraction of Manti Te'o last year. The media got the best stories they could out of the fake girlfriend angle, and then it stopped being an issue. At some point, football started, and Te'o was just a rookie linebacker, trying to quietly play at an NFL level.
The best part of the fact that the media "circus" will have a reasonable beginning and end is that it will disprove all of the nonsense we're hearing from the gutless anonymous GMs. Michael Sam being on a team, and that team operating normally, will be a big step for progress, even beyond football.
Sam is a trailblazer for civil rights in mens' team sports, but it's clear that he just wants to be a football player, and live his life on his own terms. I would suspect that the fact that he played so well after coming out to his team was not coincidental.
As for the Tebow circus, the problem there is that he brought an undesirable fan element with him. Tebow fans tend to be delusional and demanding, and they're so zealous, loud, and fervent in their beliefs, that it can be disruptive to a team. The media coverage that chases the eyeballs of those (terrible) fans is only problematic insofar as it doesn't match the football worth of the player being covered. Tebow's teammates are left to wonder why they're being asked questions about a backup QB, and why the media wankers are focused on such unimportant things. (Hint: because they're awful.)
That's a lasting, continuous annoyance, and a backup player isn't worth that. If Tebow were a better player, he'd be a starting QB in the NFL right now, and a team would put up with the Zombies.
Drafting Michael Sam and just letting him play football is something that has no ongoing operational cost to a team, and has the benefit of casting it in a positive light. Intolerant asshole baby boomers die off everyday, and they're being replaced as key consumers by a huge contingent of Millennials who were raised to think that they should live and let live.
As for Sam's draft stock, I can't see why it would be as low as it reportedly is. He's not for every scheme, and he may lack OLB skills, but he's very good going forward, and he was the Defensive Player of the Year in the best conference, playing against (by far) the best offensive lines in America. He can be a good starting open-side DE in the NFL, and if I saw the guy on the board at the end of the second round, I'd think a lot about taking him.
Does a team that sees Sam as a DE really care that he struggled with linebacker drills at the Senior Bowl? I would say no, but that's the kind of data point that a draftnik overvalues as part of their effort to construct a single coherent value context for every player.
When not every team wants a specific player, or sees him as a scheme fit, it's easy to see that as a downgrade in draftability (if you think like a draftnik), but it's not. Consensus means very little when the picks start being called. At some point, Sam will be the best edge pass rusher available, and some team will take him because they need an edge rusher. It doesn't take 20 teams to like a guy for one team to think he's the best guy left at his position at, say, the 60th pick.
I think that the fact that Sam was already known to be gay by most NFL teams suggests that he was probably already known to be gay by most plugged-in draftnik types. For that reason, I think that the "third-to-fifth round" consensus range probably already had the sexual orientation factor baked into it.
I think that Sam's work on film will get him drafted relatively highly, and that he's likely to be a good player, who doesn't attract a continuing circus. Gay people are able to be successful in many endeavors in life, and there's no reason that football can't be another one. As they say, ball don't lie.
It only takes one team to value Sam's playing ability enough to take him, and to partner with him in overcoming the openly gay barrier. I believe that that team will be rewarded, and that there won't be any kind of appreciable circus, once the season gets going. And following that, the bigots will have one less straw man to use to keep the gay man down.