Michael Sam was the first openly gay player to enter the NFL draft. He was also in danger of going undrafted through the 2014 NFL Draft until the St. Louis Rams took him at #249, which has raised a bunch of eyebrows about how accepting NFL organizations are of gay players. This also raised extra eyebrows because he was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and previously no winner of that award went any later than 33rd.
So was there some conspiracy by the NFL not to select Sam? Are all NFL teams run by bigots? I wouldn’t leap to conclusions.
By: Adam Pyde – @Adam_Pyde
The NFL is about results. We’ve seen teams take murders, wife beaters, dog killers, alcoholics, drug dealers, deadbeat fathers, racists and all other sorts of players that aren’t exactly Captain America. Why? Because they can help a team win.
That is all that counts. Wins. “Distractions” are only “distractions” if the team loses.
If you’re talented enough to contribute to wins and provide an edge, you’ll play.
Drew Fairservice of The Score had a really interesting take on Michael Sam after the combine, where Sam didn’t exactly even come close to blowing the doors off, and that combine probably has more to do with his draft exclusion than any homophobia, although that could have played a role however big or small.
Some highlights from his piece where he notes that the combine numbers tell a different story than other SEC Defensive Players of the Year:
During his Senior Bowl performance, Sam looked more like a specialist than a player capable of lining up every down.
He posted an official 40-yard time of 4.91, a 25.5 inch vertical leap, bench pressed 225 pounds 17 times. Sam also posted a 7.8 second three-cone drill time. All numbers were below-average for a D-lineman in 2014.
Over the five previous NFL drafts, six players from the defensive lineman pool were taken after posting combine numbers similar to Sam’s. One was picked with the goal of switching him to linebacker in mind. The five other players average 6’4″ tall and carry an average weight of 295lbs. Their average draft position was 199th overall. Michael Sam is listed at 6’2, 260.
I really recommend reading the full piece for some great in depth comparisons of Sam’s combine scores to other similar players who played in the NFL.
Among them were the 5 similar drafted players (one 4th, 5th and 6th round pick and two 7ths) and 5 undrafted free agents which include 3 various degrees of replaceable bottom roster NFLers, a CFLer and an indoor football player.
Now, none of those players won SEC Defensive Player of the Year. But awards like that don’t seem to mean terribly much to NFL teams who pass on players with championship pedigree and individual awards regularly, however they do usually end up drafted.
The draft saw punters, players with recently torn ACLs, Canadian Univeristy players, former basketball players, players who did not play last season and small-school players picked. But no one wanted the guy with 11.5 sacks in the SEC on until the Rams used a compensatory pick at the end of the draft?
Its all very curious to me. Did Sam get passed on because he is gay? Was it his combine? Was it his struggles in the Senoir Bowl game? Did teams want to avoid the “distraction” of a gay player? Would he have been taken if he did not come out?
We’ll probably never know. What we do know is that this doesn’t look great on behalf of the NFL.