Seven asked, seven answered: Baseball execs would sign gay player
How do I know? I asked seven executives on Monday if their team would sign a baseball version of Sam, the reigning co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year from Missouri who told several news outlets Sunday that he was gay.
All seven went on the record. And all seven said yes.
The reaction of the baseball executives came in stark contrast to an SI.com report that quoted eight unnamed NFL decision-makers as saying Sam’s announcement would cause him to drop in the league’s upcoming draft.
"If the reports about his football ability and character are accurate, we would sign the baseball Michael Sam in a second and be a better organization for it," Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein said.
The NFL execs spoke of their concern about Sam receiving excessive publicity and disrupting the locker room culture. Funny, Sam sure wasn’t a problem at Missouri, where last season he helped lead the Tigers to a school-record 12 victories, an appearance in the SEC Championship Game and victory in the Cotton Bowl.
No, Sam did not come out publicly before the season began, so the attention was not nearly the same as he will receive in the NFL as the first openly gay player in league history, and first in any of the four major professional North American sports.
Sam, however, did come out to his teammates in a preseason meeting. Those teammates accepted him — no small achievement, considering college football players rarely are confused with renaissance men.
A locker room full of professionals could not do the same?
"I don’t think football is ready for (an openly gay player) just yet," an NFL player personnel assistant told SI.com. "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. To call somebody a (gay slur) is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room."
That player personnel assistant might want to check Twitter, where player after player expressed their support for Sam. He also might want to listen to NFLPA head Domonique Foxworth, who told ESPN the players and the union would welcome Sam "with open arms."
As noted by Juliet Macur in the New York Times, even Pope Francis recently took a stand in support of gays, asking, "Who am I to judge?" and adding that people "should not be marginalized" because of their sexual orientation.
A number of baseball execs agreed.
Mark Shapiro, Cleveland Indians president: "When we assess talent acquisition, we factor in all variables relative to a player’s performance — tools, character, personality and medical risk are among the main areas of evaluation.
"Sexual orientation has not and never would be an area of consideration, and it certainly would not prevent us from acquiring a player we felt could help the team be in a better position to win a championship."
Frank Coonelly, Pittsburgh Pirates president: "I cannot imagine that a baseball player’s sexual orientation would affect where he would be drafted in the baseball draft. Of course, I cannot speak for others, but I know for certain that the Pirates would make our draft decision based solely on whether we believed that the man could play."
Derrick Hall, Arizona Diamondbacks president: "The Diamondbacks do not tolerate any form of discrimination and take pride in being an inclusive and accepting organization."
Some might view the remarks by the baseball execs as lip service, but going on the record makes them accountable. Besides, a decision on whether to pursue an openly gay player should not even be difficult, if that player can help a team win.
St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, while aware of the comments by the NFL execs, said he does not even believe Sam’s sexual orientation will affect how NFL teams view him.
As Mozeliak put it, "Overall, I feel in society and specifically in professional sports, you are seeing more tolerance to different issues. The sporting world is built on performance and talent, and that typically drives decisions."
And how would baseball players accept an openly gay teammate? Probably no differently than football players would: some approving, some disapproving, some not caring at all.
The clubhouse mirrors society. Houston Astros pitcher Jarred Cosart used a gay slur on Twitter on Monday. But this is the sport that broke the color barrier, a sport that now welcomes talent from all over the world.
The culture, historically, is inclusive.
"I think you have to expect and allow for guys to respond to new teammates in their own way, provided it’s respectful," Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels said. "We’ve welcomed people with all sorts of backgrounds in the past, with most having success here.
"If the guy is a good teammate and can help us win, I don’t see why this would be any different. It would come down to the evaluation – do our people think the talent and makeup justify the cost? — same test we’d apply to any potential acquisition."
Actually, it may even go deeper than that.
Chicago White Sox president Ken Williams, who previously was the first African-American general manager in Chicago sports history, said that if a team is unwilling to offer its full backing to an openly gay player, then it should not acquire him.
"Are you, as a leader of your organization, prepared to provide the young man the public and private support he will need along with controlling, to the extent you can, what the behavior is in the clubhouse/locker room?" Williams asked.
"If the answer is yes, then you have an opportunity to use what some see as a distraction and use it as an individual and team character-building opportunity along the lines of what Branch Rickey did for Jackie Robinson.
"If the answer is no, then it is unfair to select him because like it or not, this will be a daily media/fan event and will need to be managed to keep everyone’s focus on the job at hand."
Williams’ answer is yes. The answer of every executive I spoke with was yes.
Baseball is ready for a Michael Sam.
Ken Rosenthal has been the FOXSports.com’s Senior MLB Writer since August 2005. He appears weekly on MLB on FOX, FOX Sports Radio and MLB Network. He’s a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter.