So Missouri defensive end Michael Sam came out publicly last night to the New York Times (he had already been out to his teammates since before the season) and roughly 30 minutes after the RAINBOWSTREAM MEDIA broke out in celebration, the Distraction Factory cranked up in the form of these eight anonymous NFL executives, all of whose quotes read like a briefing from a class action lawsuit.
You don't need to be clairvoyant to know that Sam will probably get screwed. I don't think he'll be drafted. And if he does get picked up as a street free agent, the team that signs him will have few reservations about cutting, him because he'll have been so thoroughly devalued.
That GM: "We don't think he's a very good player. The reality is he's an overrated player in out estimation."
— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) February 10, 2014
If you think that NFL executives are at all worried about looking intolerant for neglecting to draft Sam, I'm here to assure you that they give precisely half a fuck about that. You can call their bluff and they'll still try to rake in the pot. They'll hose Sam without a second thought, because they would much prefer the headache of not drafting Sam to the headache of drafting him (OMG what if someone calls him a "piece of crap"?), even if the "distraction" provided by Sam's open sexual orientation would endure the length of exactly ONE news cycle before the world moved on. Even if Riley fucking Cooper can get his own redemption narrative. No team wants to be the first with a gay player. They all want to be second.
It wouldn't be that brave to draft Sam. Not in 2014, when most people, even the conservative ones, can't be bothered to stew over another human being's sexuality. It would take nothing to pull the trigger and wait patiently for the story to settle down, just as the Chargers did with Manti Te'o a year ago. Te'o is now a solid building block on a promising team, and the fact that he used to fuck a ghost has been beaten thoroughly down into the ground now. Everything fades eventually. But many NFL GMs regard a gay player as some kind of superhuman perpetual distraction machine, as if Sam will run out onto the field every week with a miniature Ferris Wheel dangling from his cock.
There is a pattern being established now. When Jason Collins came out last summer, it was greeted with equal warmth and celebration. And then fall arrived and Collins—who, to be fair to NBA teams, was a shitty player—failed to land on a roster. Sam is about to endure three months of having his skill set diminished by anonymous scouts and executives, who might even convince themselves that their horseshit excuses are true. He's too small! He played against inferior SEC competition! What if he tackles players with a boner? Etc. And he will endure all of this—the poking, the prodding, and the blatant erosion of his draft status—alone.
It shouldn't be this way. Sam shouldn't be out here on a fucking island, not when he is essentially the NFL's dream come true. He's talented, confident, and his sexuality has already had a full season of formal Distraction Testing. And yet, I have ZERO confidence in NFL teams taking advantage of this fact. Frankly, I kinda wish he had been able to wait until he was drafted, had a starting gig, and could announce it five minutes before taking the field. (By all accounts, Sam came out because he knew the story was poised to break regardless.) No openly gay player has faced a crowd in a major American pro sport yet, and if executives can avoid that sort of thing, they will.
That is why Sam currently stands alone. That's why the predicted jailbreak of openly gay athletes following Collins' lead never materialized. Lord knows there are plenty of closeted gay starters out there in the NFL, and all of them, as of now, would prefer to wait and see what happens. All of them would like to make sure the first guy isn't fucked before they follow suit. You first, Mike! Tell me if the water's freezing!
This is getting tiring. This can end TODAY with one quality starter on one football or basketball team pulling a Neil Patrick Harris and then going on about his business. By coming out and being so admirably open, Sam has made this process even easier. He's the perfect ambassador. And yet, if no one joins him, he still might find himself on the discard pile. And if that happens, the chance will be lost again. Players like Sam will continue to stick their necks out and get guillotined as long as it remains easy for GMs to collectively blacklist a gay player who is either a) a marginal talent or b) can easily be portrayed as a marginal talent.
Now that Sam is here, someone else needs to step forward who cannot be so easily ignored, who will extract a bare shred of courage from his team's GM. Someone has to make what will, in the end, be a relatively small sacrifice given that fans are dicks to athletes no matter who they are or how they perform. Someone, a star, needs to break through the ceiling so that Sam won't break his fucking neck crashing into it. All it takes it one other guy. One other voice. Michael Sam shouldn't have to do this alone because he ISN'T alone, and we all know it.
Photo via Getty