KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Oh, Joe Barkett’s phone is ringing, all right. Just not off the hook.
"At this point, we don’t want Mike doing a lot of commercials and a lot of endorsement deals," Barkett, the agent for former Missouri football star Michael Sam, the first openly gay NFL draft prospect, tells FOXSportsMidwest.com, "because we think it sends the wrong message."
It also might interfere with Sam’s prep for the NFL combine Feb. 22-25 in Indianapolis and Mizzou’s pro timing day after that.
Barkett says that while several companies have "reached out and want to work with Mike," he expects "maybe one or two endorsement deals" before the end of the month, and after that, a little bit — a very small amount."
One company expected to be in the mix is Nike; the shoe and clothing giant has a contract with Jason Collins, the NBA center who came out last April. Profits from the company’s #BeTrue campaign are being donated to the LGBT Sports Coalition.
"Nike believes in a level playing field where an athlete’s sexual orientation is not a consideration," the company said in a statement last spring in support of Collins.
There’s certainly a market — the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community contributed an estimated $830 billion in spending to the U.S. economy last year according to an analysis by Witeck Communications.
"People are responding to Mike being courageous and not being afraid, I will say that," Barkett says. "No matter what, where it’s someone coming out or whether it’s someone taking a stand with an issue, I think people relate to that, to not being afraid, and having the guts to do it."
But from an image perspective, Barkett’s camp is trying to maintain the right balance; will corporate American spin Sam to be known as a football player who happens to be gay, or a gay man who happens to play football?
"From corporate people to the NFL, from front office personnel to what I’ve heard from the fans, it’s 98 percent positive," Barkett says.
"Obviously, when you’ve got an issue as big as this, you’re always going to have opinions on both sides of the spectrum. It has been overwhelmingly positive so far."
While Sam has limited interviews and access after a Sunday blitz that included the New York Times, ESPN and OutSports.com, in the 48 hours since, the Tiger All-American "feels great about" the feedback.
"From the texts that he’s received from fellow teammates and from other players, everything has been positive," Barkett says.
"He hasn’t received anything negative, personally. And that’s the way it should be. People should be happy for him and the fact that he’s revealed his true self and be honest with everyone. It’s something anybody can relate to, really, whether you’re gay or not."
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.