A few weeks ago I was contacted by Michael Sam’s agents, Cameron Weiss and Joe Barkett from Empire Sports. They mentioned they had a gay player/client and wanted my assistance in mentoring him. I was skeptical but agreed to meet them at a coffee shop in West Los Angeles. After several meetings and phone calls, I finally met Michael.
It was important for me to introduce him to Jason Collins since they have so much in common and the advice that Collins would bestow onto Mike would be invaluable. Through my manager, Reed Bergman, I was able to have a meeting with New York Giants co-owner and staunch LGBT supporter Steve Tisch. I introduced Weiss and Barkett to Steve, who would also be a great contact for Sam.
Additionally, Sam received the benefit of the knowledge that Wade Davis and David Kopay have. They were both gay and played in the NFL. Sharing their experience went a long way in easing Michael’s announcement on Sunday night.
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Now that Sam did his part — putting it all on the line for NFL scouts, coaches and executives — the focus turns back to league personnel: Will they do right by Sam and draft him off his capabilities and not be gun-shy due to his sexual orientation?
Over the last several years, NFL veterans like Davis and Scott Fujita have been working toward an inclusive NFL environment. They are having conversations with current players that need to be had to raise awareness that gay players are among us.
The question the league faces: Are you going to embrace them or perpetuate the belief that the NFL is one of the last closets in America?
Sam enters the NFL Draft in May. While the league has had years to prepare for this day, it has mostly operated in a reactive manner to incidents like Chris Culliver, Jonathan Vilma and Chris Kluwe’s accusations about Minnesota Vikings assistant Mike Priefer.
If Sam continues to do what he has done — impressing scouts and coaches, which includes continuing to do so in all the various tests at the Combine later this month — he is projected to possibly be a second-day draft pick. As the third and fourth round come and go, if Sam’s name isn’t called, this could cause yet another problem for the NFL and its brand.
Whatever happens, this will be the most highly anticipated second day of the NFL Draft in history. More than just football fans will follow, because the second Sam’s name is called, he’ll be the first openly gay male in MLB, NBA or the NFL.
On Draft Day, I’m preparing for the worst but hoping for the best.
In spending time with Sam, it’s clear he has the mindset and mentality of a successful NFL player. He is highly competitive and wants to win at everything he does. He has a confidence and a swagger about him that suggests he will not fail, and most importantly he is up for the challenge and welcomes it.
When NFL scouts and coaches talk to Sam, they will realize this as well. He sees being gay as a badge of honor that he carries with pride. Just as one is proud of their heritage or background, the same follows suit with Sam and his being gay. He doesn’t shrink from it, but rather puffs his chest out and confidently talks about who he is.
These attributes will sway some teams into believing in Sam the football player, but they could also drive some away. Just as we have the Rooney Rule, where every NFL team with a coaching vacancy is obligated to interview one black coaching candidate — even though most of the time they have no intention of hiring said person — some teams will sit down with Sam with their minds already made up. They will show interest and interview him to deflect any potential heat, but they will have already lost interest in Sam.
Fortunately, there will also be teams that don’t waver in their analysis of Sam regardless of his sexual orientation. I have not the slightest idea which teams those are, but we can make some educated guesses.
When I think of teams with the right leaders in the locker room, the right defense to fit Sam’s style of play and a progressive city that would embrace such a player, a few teams come to mind.
The Seattle Seahawks are my leading candidate because they have a couple free agents at defensive end who could bolt for higher dollars with other organizations. Sam — about 6-foot-3, 255 pounds — is considered a tweener and would actually fit Seattle’s system and philosophy.
They have great young leaders in the locker room and were one of the youngest teams this past season. What better city than Seattle to embrace a person like Sam?
Another could be the Big Apple.
Tisch is a huge LGBT supporter, and NYC is one of the most progressive cities in America, if not the world. Sam fits in the Giants’ defensive scheme and there are some good guys in that locker room, as well.
As for the other tenants at MetLife Stadium, Rex Ryan is an open-minded coach and doesn’t care what you do as long as you show up to work with a hard hat and pail.
The Jets’ coach is a master of specialization and finding players who can do one thing in an amazing manner; Ryan then inserts them into his defensive scheme to do just that.
Sam is a relentless pass rusher, and I could see Ryan finding a way to get his hand in the dirt and chase down quarterbacks.
The Washington Redskins could potentially be a good fit, as DC is one of the pioneering areas for marriage equality in the States, but I don’t know what scheme new head coach Jay Gruden is going to run yet. I don’t see the Vikings being a candidate after the investigation with their special teams coach, Priefer, and the Kluwe incident.
Some additional teams with the combination of great leadership and progressive cities that would embrace a player like Sam: the Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles and the whole NFC South.
Do not look for Sam to wind up in his home state of Texas. The Dallas Cowboys aren’t a fit, and the circus that usually surrounds America’s Team wouldn’t be beneficial. The scheme with the Houston Texans also doesn’t suit his skills.
As progressive as the Baltimore Ravens organization and the state of Maryland are, I don’t see Sam fitting into the Ravens’ scheme, which is the same as the San Francisco 49ers. Great cities and great states — but not a good fit.
No matter where Sam lands, though, the better he plays the less of an issue it becomes that he is gay. In time, Sam will make it easier for other closeted NFL players to come out. This was the big one. This is the media circus. From here on out when a player reveals his homosexuality, it should be less and less of an ordeal.
At the end of the day, teammates want to line up next to players who they trust and have their back. In my experience with Michael Sam, I would line up next to him in a heartbeat.