Michaux: NFL shouldn't let a player's sexual orientation affect his draft status

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The next two days provide a moment of truth for the NFL – a judgment day on the league’s collective judgment.

It's unclear whether an NFL club will draft Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam, the Southeastern Conference's Defensive Player of the Year. Sam would be the first openly gay player in the league.  FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
It's unclear whether an NFL club will draft Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam, the Southeastern Conference's Defensive Player of the Year. Sam would be the first openly gay player in the league.

The first round of the NFL Draft went by in prime time on Thursday night without Michael Sam’s name being called. That’s not a surprise, as the Missouri All-America defensive end was never expected to be a first-round pick.

Today’s second and third rounds might pass as well without Sam getting a phone call. The best-case projection for the player who led the Southeastern Conference last season in sacks (11.5) was third round, and that was before he failed to impress scouts with an underwhelming performance in the NFL combine.

If the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds pass by Saturday without Sam being selected by any of the NFL’s 32 franchises – well, that will be a very sad day for America’s most popular sports league. If not one team is willing to take a chance on the defensive player of the year from the best conference in college football with one of 256 overall picks, there’s only one possible explanation.

Homophobia.

Sam is a 6-foot-2, 260-pound football player with a “motor that runs hot” according to the NFL’s top draft analysts. He is also an openly gay man, having made that announcement publicly in February six months after he came out to his Missouri teammates.

His admitting the truth about himself was obviously so disruptive in his college locker room that the Tigers shocked everybody by going 12-2, winning the SEC East and eventually beating Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.

“I may be the first but I won’t be the last,” he said of his openly gay status in the draft.

But NFL experts claim that Sam’s presence might “chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”

Loving other men is apparently the worst thing an NFL player can do this side of quitting.

Admittedly there are reasonable and legitimate concerns about Sam’s ability to take his game to the next level. He’s considered too small to be an effective NFL defensive end and not quite fast enough to transition into being a pass-rushing linebacker. He didn’t excel at the combine, where the scrutiny on the first openly gay player vying for a draft pick reached absurd levels.

Sam displayed a quiet dignity in the proceedings while yahoos from inside and out of football made jokes about his sexual orientation, such as pro golfer Steve Elkington’s ignorant tweets about competing in the “handbag toss.”

Should Sam not get drafted, the league’s scouts will hide behind those numbers despite his improving vastly on them a month later in a public workout for teams. Truth is, however, that Sam’s stock already was plummeting right after he came out as gay. He fell 70 spots in one projection a few hours later, in fact, without ever running a 40 or lifting a weight.

Sports Illustrated polled league representatives anonymously to get their most honest assessments of what being gay would mean for Sam’s draft stock, and the answers were less than enlightened.

“I don’t think football is ready for it just yet,” said the same player personnel assistant who added the “chemical imbalance” quote above. “In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game.”

“There are guys in locker rooms that maturity-wise cannot handle it or deal with the thought of that,” an NFL assistant coach said.

When the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel polled 21 NFL scouts recently, a third of them said they wouldn’t even sign Sam to a free-agent contract.

That’s pathetic. Missouri was obviously ready to accept Sam as a player and team leader with seemingly zero negative ramifications based on results. His teammates voted him the most valuable player of a team that came one SEC Championship game loss away from competing for a BCS title. And those were just college kids. Shouldn’t the grown men in the NFL be even more mature?

“I came out to my team last August and coming out to them they rallied around me and supported me,” Sam said in February. “I knew in that moment that this could happen anywhere. If my team could support me any team can support me.”

It would be nice to believe that in 2014 that would be the case. Gay rights have come a long way in just the past decade as America slowly moves toward treating all fellow humans with appropriate dignity and respect. You don’t have to like or agree with everything about the people you work with, whether it’s politics, religion or musical tastes. But you have to respect them and be professional regardless of those differences.

NFL teams, coaches and players have shown an incredible willingness to accept a lot of players with all kinds of attributes: dog killers, cheaters, wife beaters, rapists, drunks who commit vehicular homicide, guys accused of murder, and so on. Nobody has come out and said they refuse to share a locker room with any of them.

Richie Incognito, a player with habitual behavioral problems going back to high school, hopes to be accepted back into the league somewhere this season after being revealed as an abusive locker room bully the same month Sam came out. Homophobic slurs were a particular Incognito specialty.

He’s not alone. In 2002, Lincoln County icon Garrison Hearst used an offensive gay slur condemning the idea of homosexual players in the San Francisco 49ers locker room. Hearst later apologized.

A decade later, however, another 49ers player and former Gamecock, Chris Culliver, trudged the same weary road of intolerance before the 2013 Super Bowl.

“No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do,” said Culliver, also suggesting a closeted gay player should wait 10 years after retiring before coming out.

Culliver, too, later apologized. But sadly, if Sam fails to get drafted or even signed to a free-agent contract, Culliver’s coming-out plan might prove to have been the more prudent course.

Sam will likely survive and thrive regardless of what happens this weekend. He just received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award that’s presented to athletes who “transcend sports.”

He’ll receive that award in July, hopefully on a night off from an NFL training camp.

Surely the NFL can find one team willing to draft the guy who played the best defensive football in the SEC last season.

But if the NFL isn’t ready to handle an openly gay player in its league, shame on it.

Comments (12) Add comment
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burninater
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burninater 05/08/14 - 07:37 pm
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Excellent editorial.

Excellent editorial.

I think there's reason to be more optimistic than the "decade or two to acceptance" claim, and it's this:

"His teammates voted him the most valuable player of a team that came one SEC Championship game loss away from competing for a BCS title. And those were just college kids. Shouldn’t the grown men in the NFL be even more mature?"

Generational turnover in players in the NFL is much faster than in coaches and management. Those of the generations where homophobia was more prevalent, who may be managing and coaching teams, will face pressure from their new generational players who are far less likely, statistically, to think sexual orientation is an acceptable reason to demean, bully, and exclude another human. The old guard will likely have an exceptionally difficult time justifying such behaviors in a few short years, if player-driven pressure begins to reach critical levels.

Two other points: 1) it only takes one brave coach or manager to set a precedent of intolerance of homophobia to set a leadership example the rest of the league may scramble to emulate, and 2) the NFL's threats to move the Superbowl from Phoenix over the AZ bill allowing businesses to refuse to serve customers simply on the grounds of personal identity was a clear sign that the league is highly aware of public brand perception.

burninater
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burninater 05/08/14 - 10:35 pm
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Comment edited

(Original comment pointed out headline errors; no longer relevant)

Connor Threlkeld
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Connor Threlkeld 05/08/14 - 08:47 pm
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Burninater, I was reading

Burninater, I was reading that at the same time you did. I'm fixing it now. And you're right, Scott didn't have anything to do with the new headline.

burninater
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burninater 05/08/14 - 11:39 pm
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.

.

deestafford
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deestafford 05/09/14 - 10:21 am
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Why is it when a person is against something it is...

Why is it when a person is against something it is called a "phobia"? A "phobia" means you are afraid of something. Take being against the Islamists murdering people and anyone who criticizes Islam has "Islamicphobia".

Just because someone is against a deviate behavior that can be disruptive to a cohesive team means they are somehow lower than pond scum.

No matter how hard the media, the education system, and the entertainment industry try to make homosexuality as "normal" and "mainstream" the fact remains no civilized culture has every accepted it as mainstream and normal.

Many of the problems we now have in this country today can be traced to the attempt to dumb deviance down and make it acceptable. All behavior and sexual morays are not equal regardless of what the multiculturalist try to push on the majority of Americans.

You can call me a bigot if you want but Christianity sets down certain standards and we who profess to be Christian (as well as most other mainstream religions) have a commitment to live by those standards.

Scott Michaux
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Scott Michaux 05/09/14 - 12:44 pm
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Phobias

Being afraid that Muslims might kill you or being afraid that a gay athlete will disrupt a locker room are pretty much definitions of "phobias." You are welcome to live by any standards you choose, but you are not free to impose your doctrine on others.

burninater
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burninater 05/09/14 - 01:41 pm
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Point: "You can call me a

Point: "You can call me a bigot if you want but Christianity sets down certain standards and we who profess to be Christian (as well as most other mainstream religions) have a commitment to live by those standards."

Counterpoint: "NFL teams, coaches and players have shown an incredible willingness to accept a lot of players with all kinds of attributes: dog killers, cheaters, wife beaters, rapists, drunks who commit vehicular homicide, guys accused of murder, and so on. Nobody has come out and said they refuse to share a locker room with any of them."

In light of Scott Michaux's excellent counterpoint, it becomes difficult to understand exactly what "standards" deestafford is claiming Christianity "commits" him/her to.

Christianity says bring in the "dog killers, cheaters, wife beaters, rapists, drunks who commit vehicular homicide, guys accused of murder, and so on," but exclude the homosexuals?

I'm calling BS on that. That is not a Christian standard, that is a personal standard. Stop hiding behind a religion. This is your standard, not Christianity's.

edcushman
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edcushman 05/09/14 - 04:00 pm
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"You are welcome to live by
Unpublished

"You are welcome to live by any standards you choose, but you are not free to impose your doctrine on others."
Scott, you are welcome to your doctrine and standards and so is everyone else. But the REAL PROBLEM is the Homosexual community wants to impose their standards and doctrine on people that do not agree with them.

edcushman
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edcushman 05/09/14 - 03:25 pm
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"This is your standard, not
Unpublished

"This is your standard, not Christianity's."
burn, you are correct. I believe Homosexuality is perverted and if I was running a business I would most likely not hire one.

Just My Opinion
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Just My Opinion 05/09/14 - 04:38 pm
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Scott, I think you can do

Scott, I think you can do better than this, and it's not because I disagree with you. It's because the idea behind it is so tired and weak. So, if a team doesn't draft this young man, it's not because THEY don't want to invest THEIR money in someone THEY may not feel will play up to the professional level...no, it's got to be that it's because he's gay!?

And why don't you go ahead and tack on that he's not only gay, HE'S BLACK TOO!! Doesn't that get him some points? Hey, did he grow up on the wrong side of the tracks? Where's his Daddy...is he or isn't he in the picture?? You get the idea.

See. You can go on with these hackneyed excuses all day if you wanted. Unless you can prove that these teams are excluding Sam because of some specific reason, like he's gay....which would be ridiculous because the typical piranha-press is looking for ANYTHING they can write about....then you should stop trying to make something that is non-existent into something that is sensational and controversial. As a journalist, you need to see that there is a fine line between being an advocate for homosexual rights and being a "bully" to people who don't accept someone and you claim it's because they're homophobic, or racist, or a male chauvinist, or a leftist, etc..

For the record, edcushman, I agree with you that homosexuality IS perverted and I don't agree with anything for or about it...nothing. However, if I were a business owner, I would not exclude hiring one, just as I would not exclude serving one as a customer.

burninater
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burninater 05/09/14 - 04:46 pm
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"But the REAL PROBLEM is the

"But the REAL PROBLEM is the Homosexual community wants to impose their standards and doctrine on people that do not agree with them."
------
Really edcushman? You've been forced to become a homosexual?

edcushman
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edcushman 05/09/14 - 05:26 pm
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burn, Homosexual community
Unpublished

burn, Homosexual community wants people that disagree with their standards and doctrine to accept their live style as being normal such as gay marriage.

Just My Opinion
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Just My Opinion 05/09/14 - 06:06 pm
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Ed, you're correct. The

Ed, you're correct. The definition of "normal" has seen a very slow, but steady change over the years. The press, Hollywood, and groups such as the ACLU have been instrumental in this change.

Pops
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Pops 05/09/14 - 09:41 pm
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There have been gay players in the NFL since it was founded.

The players will tell you there are gay people on their teams and they know exactly who they are (several players have said this in interviews.)
Sam is just the first one to jump up and yell 'Look at me I'm special!' If I was a coach or a GM I don't know if I would want the level of distraction that will cause on my team. Not because the man is gay but because HE has turned his sexuality into a side show. Coming out publicly like he did before the draft was exactly what he wanted to do. Paint the league in a corner and maybe guilt a team into drafting him higher than he probably deserves......

gaflyboy
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gaflyboy 05/09/14 - 11:16 pm
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Homophobia is the only possibility?

I haven't followed this guy, but I understand his college stats are outstanding. Unfortunately, it sounds like he was less than impressive in the combine.

Fact is, there are tons of outstanding college players whose talent don't translate to the NFL. Take Tim Tebow for instance. I suppose the only reason he's not in the NFL is because of Christianphobia?

Give me a break! Pops is correct.

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