Michael Sam: A Small Step, and a Giant Leap

When the Rams finally took Michael Sam seven picks from the end of the draft, anger turned to joy among the out former players supporting him. It’s history, yes, but whose?

By
Robert Klemko
· More from Robert·

Brace yourself. It’s Michael Sam Week… again.

Maybe it didn’t matter to you the first time around, when the Missouri defensive end came out to a national audience and announced his intention to be pro football’s first openly gay active player. If that’s the case, it probably matters even less now that he’s done it, having been drafted in the seventh round by the Rams. That’s fine. You have the right to stop reading.

But know that it really mattered to a handful of men, beginning with St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher, who said he wanted to be a part of an historic moment and get a good football player. When out former NFL player Wade Davis delivered his inclusivity talk to a room full of coaches at the NFL owners meetings in March, Fisher jumped from his seat and was first in line waiting beside the stage when Davis finished, ready to bear-hug the former cornerback. A decade earlier, Fisher had cut Wade not once, but twice from the Titans. They hadn’t spoken since.

“Maybe I did make a mistake by cutting you,” Fisher told him, “because you’re still here!”

There will be a lot written this week about Sam. We’ll discuss why he fell to the seventh round. We’ll wonder what’s next; how will Rams players and their fans and the local media respond to being a proving ground for the unprecedented? Will Sam even make the Rams roster?

We’ll talk about pick 249 as a historic moment. And it is, but whose history is it?

“I don’t think anybody needs to be vilified,” Wade says of Sam’s slide. “When you go into a new space, there’s some hesitation.”

It’s not Sam’s history. Surely, he’s beginning to grasp the significance, but how could he ever thrive in this sport if he wasn’t at least somewhat naive about the larger context? Who in his right mind could bear all that weight? He didn’t kiss his boyfriend on ESPN to be the first dude to kiss his boyfriend on ESPN. He did it because he wanted to kiss his boyfriend.

Can the NFL puff its chest out and claim this moment? Nope. Not in light of Sam’s breathless fall down the boards. There are reasons for that. Some are well-documented. Some aren’t. On some level, we can understand it as evidence of the league’s collective reluctance to take the leap into a new era, despite commissioner Roger Goodell’s insistence of the opposite. It’s true that Sam is not a first-round talent. It’s also true he’s not a seventh-round talent. They call the NFL a copycat league, and this time it manifested in an ugly way.

Michael Sam: Tape Study

The MMQB’s Greg Bedard watched every snap Sam played in 12 games last season, analyzing his strengths and weaknesses. FULL STORY 

Even the Rams, groundbreakers that they are, don’t own this. They waited like everybody else, convinced Sam would fall further than his talents merited. They made history, but not before they got a bargain.

No, this moment belongs to gentlemen with a sort of perspective we can’t even imagine, who watched the draft at the edge of their seats. Davis streamed it live to his phone en route to a flag football game in New York. Out former NFL defensive lineman Esera Tuaolo watched it from his home in Minnesota, at one point shutting off the television because he couldn’t stand to watch anymore… then flipping it back on almost immediately. David Kopay, the first retired player to come out, watched the broadcast at home near Occidental College outside of Los Angeles. Three generations of NFL players, hoping and praying the man who had the courage and perspective to do what they couldn’t—come out while playing—would have his confidence validated.

Slowly, the confidence eroded.

“I was so angry as the rounds passed by,” said Tuaolo, 45.

“I could just feel the pressure that he was under,” said Kopay, 71, “and the anxiety, having stood up the way he has, just to be who you are.”

Pass rushers flew off the board in rapid succession in the seventh; Ben Gardner, a banged-up tweener out of Stanford, went 231st to the Cowboys. Trevor Reilly, a 26-year-old linebacker out of Utah, went 233rd to the Jets. Terrence Fede, FCS school Marist’s career leader in sacks, went 234th to the Dolphins. Shelby Harris, who was dismissed from the Illinois State football team and didn’t play in 2013, went 235th to the Raiders.

Davis, 36, has been speaking with owners, coaches and general managers for weeks, and while he hated to see Sam fall, he understood it.

“Teams aren’t afraid of having Michael; they’re afraid of the unknown,” Davis said. “How is the media going to handle it? How are the coaches going to handle it? I don’t think anybody needs to be vilified for it. When you go into a new space that’s never been breached before, there’s some hesitation there.”

Nearing the end of the draft, some of us in the television audience squirmed in anticipation. Others, certainly, didn’t want to hear Sam’s name. A great many Americans with good enough sense to not watch the backend of the freaking NFL draft were out enjoying their Saturdays.

The Rams chimed in at pick 249 out of 256, choosing Sam.

The MMQB on the Draft

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Josh Gordon’s potential suspension casts a pall on Manziel Mania in Cleveland. FULL STORY


Peter King on the boldest move of the draft—Buffalo’s big Sammy Watkins gamble. FULL STORY


Greg Bedard’s first-round breakdown. FULL STORY

Tuaolo was still frustrated, but soon grew thrilled. He pledged to be at Sam’s first game, then set out to celebrate with a friend over drinks. Kopay sat in front of the television and thought of his friend and former teammate Jerry Smith, who died of AIDS on October 15, 1986, having never come out.

“Did I cry?” Kopay said. “I cried quite a bit.”

Davis, en route to the flag football game, watched the pick come across the screen of his smartphone, then saw Sam embrace his boyfriend and kiss him. He felt nothing, then everything. “It brought me back to when I was going through all of that,” Davis said, “but obviously under very different circumstances.”

The calls started coming in; newspapers, websites, friends, loved ones. The men who lived in the shadows for as long as they could bear felt the tide shift on Saturday, just weeks after learning of a young man who didn’t at first understand the gravity of it all and probably still doesn’t.

Dozens more men, still closeted, still in the NFL, watched too. One of them sent Davis a short text message on Saturday night:  “:-)”

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28 comments
JackReacher32
JackReacher32

My real issue lies in the fact he did not take this opportunity seriously, but had a reality TV show in the works behind the scenes. I think he has plenty of talent [you have to have a fair bit if you are defensive player of the year in a conference known for defense], will be able to contribute if he makes the team, and will have a pseudo long career if he plays by the rules, but his next approach has to be about the football.

Imagine if Manziel had a reality TV show in the works behind the curtains before being drafted. We, the viewing public and the media, would have socially slaughtered him for not making football his main, if not only, priority. You have never heard of another player even considering something this stupid and given the inordinate amount of media already heaped upon him he, and his team, had to know that this was a less than functional proposition.

If he wanted to be a TV star then he should have taken acting lessons, but he wanted to be a football player and with that comes a certain level of inherent need to be media savvy. It was a terrible decision, at the worst time possible, and now the Rams are in a very tough position. He claimed he did not want to talk about his personal choices, wanted to focus on football, and not bring a media circus to which ever team chose him, but he did precisely the opposite.

Jersey sales aside, if I was in the Rams head offices, I would have a very difficult time wanting to keep him around. The rest of the year, until preseason starts, the press conferences will revolve around Sam's inability to make football the only thing that mattered.

I wish him the very best, but he has just made his uphill battle, to make an NFL roster, unnecessarily much more steep.

KristinDiggins
KristinDiggins

Oprah Winfrey Network just signed Michael Sam for a reality show.  But, it is all about the football!!!!

Buck2185
Buck2185

It is a very sad history is what it is..This POS can't go away fast enough. The younger generation watching the draft with their parents learned a lot from that kiss. You idiots continuing to write about this loser just keeps perpetuating the story

RichardCarter
RichardCarter

The sight of those two men kissing is nasty. It is instinctively repugnant to the natural soul of non perverted males. That is why the re-educational brainwashing from homosexual apologists must be waged so rigorously to maintain the supply of fresh, young recruits.


The media are falling all over themselves to see who can cheer the loudest, praise the highest, revere them to the greatest extent. Clearly, however, sports journalists exhibit no courage, wisdom or individuality when leaping aboard the Michael Sam bandwagon. Anyone can take a number, fall in line and march lock-step in this particular Pride Parade.


But what would really take guts would be for a free-thinking journalist or Christian NFL player or coach to boldly state, "It's not right to glorify homosexuality in the NFL. We don't need to show them kissing over and over on national TV. That's not a sound moral example to put before our kids."


Then, just before the hammer falls, another Christian echoes the sentiment. Then another, and another. Christians vs the Lions--televise that on Monday night, ESPN! 

JeffG3
JeffG3

My prediction on the other SI page, this is an NFL orchestrated social change pick, and the Rams will  be rewarded handsomely next year and the year after with unexplainable comp picks.  This guy is not a fit for their team, there are too many players at the same position with superior talent than his.  He has not demonstrated Special Teams ability.  I am convinced he will not make it out of training camp, and will not be picked up by another team, and that St Louis will get a mysterious comp pick or two at the fourth of fifth level within the next two drafts.

SteelCurtainHurtin
SteelCurtainHurtin

Believe it or not, occasionally the media covers a story because it's important. From a social change perspective, this story is comparable to Jackie Robinson being contracted by the Dodgers. True, no one expects Sam to reach the level of achievement of Robinson, but it is a great example of the role sports can play in changing history. No, his reaction was not staged. And for those who commented that he should keep it to himself, why should he be forced to keep his sexuality to himself any more than heterosexual players who freely parade their partners? For those who pretend that it's a non-issue, I can only say, "I wish!" Unfortunately, it is an issue, or it wouldn't have taken the NFL this long and players wouldn't have hidden their sexuality for decades. This is change! This is big! Don't choose bigotry -- celebrate change! Thanks to Michael Sam for helping history unfold.

SandersonKramer
SandersonKramer

Will Michael Sam be daily breaking news like Flight 370?

SandersonKramer
SandersonKramer

I've got no problem with him or any other Gay playing pro sports. What I have a problem with is his "Staged Kiss"- how many other 7th round picks are pictured kissing their girlfriend by ESPN and the fact that the NFL/Dolphins are fining players who dare say non-positive things. If the NFL insists on promoting Sam's Gayness then the players should be able to criticize Sam's gayness.

Flyers1968
Flyers1968

Michael Sam is like many Collegiate Players that have excelled at that level, but now, it is time for the big However.  His ability to make it at the next level, the NFL is questionable.  He does not have the size and strength to play in the trenches, nor does he have the speed to play LB in many of the defensive schemes. At best, he may become a situation pass rusher   In New England, we had such a player, Larry Izzo.  he was a fan favorite and long time leader of the Special Teams.  He had great success there as a perennial captain of the special teams..  But, he was rarely used in the defense.


Michael Sam could very well could become the Larry Izzo for St. Louis.  That would be a 6th or 7th round draft position. 

Steven30
Steven30

Stanford's LB Shayne Skov, a finalist for the Butkus Award, didn't get drafted.  As has already been noted, no one knows the reason why Sam fell to the bottom of the seventh round, but you certainly can't rule out the possibility that it was because he's simply not a good enough football player.

nitrox398
nitrox398

250 plus other players  drafted that nobody knows their sexual orientation. Like it should be. He tried to use his  this to his advantage and it didn't work. He was drafted low because his combines sucked. He didn't have the speed, strength and agility at the combines. Undersized and too slow to maneuver around NFL tackles So please stop with the media adoration junk and let this guy take his seat on the practice squad already. 

tarheel2
tarheel2

This guy should have been drafted by the PACKERS.  His lifestyle would have fit in real well there.

dryuri2003
dryuri2003

i mean really, who gives a crap if this guy is gay or not?  I mean who knew he was gay until he came out telling us he was all gay....  I guess we should have questionaires now that ask every player if their gay or not?  Oh wait if you feel you want to hide as a gay you can, you dont have to tell anyone, but then again if you want to let everyone know your gay you can tell everyone... wow, real delima... fick..

inquiry.response.team
inquiry.response.team

I am going to take a courageous step and be the first to reveal on this forum or forum anywhere for that matter - I am a lesbian trapped in a man's body. Rejoice!

Redskins
Redskins

History? Did something important happen? I thought the Rams merely made the 249th pick in the draft!

George
George

The press will make a Tebow-like circus out of this, like the slime that they are.

Locusts.

thomasoverley
thomasoverley

one small leap and one overblown story for the press who will not stop writing it over and over and over and over.

BenMyers
BenMyers

A Small Step, and a Giant Leap?  So far the only giant leap was that the kid got drafted based on his sexual orientation, and the PC atmosphere, not his ability.   On tape vs good opponents, he was physically unable to show up (though not for lack of trying, he is a high motor kid) and Combine and Pro Days, his measurables were lacking.

I hope he does succeed.  I could care less about his choice of partners.   I do care that the world is getting so PC that you knew the NFL was going to tell one of the owners to draft him no matter what, to avoid a PR black eye.   And that anyone who has doubts about him "has" to be a homophobic monster.  Tell you what, had Andrew Luck come out as gay, or someone of similar note, nobody would be having doubts at all.   Because it ain't his orientation we are doubting, but his ability to play at the next level.

el80ne
el80ne

Why would there be so much outrage because he wasn't selected earlier? He had been projected as a sixth round pick and Nate Silver gave him a 50-50 chance of being drafted at all. Guys with far more talent and promise than Sam get passed over altogether in the draft every year. Just look at Brandon Coleman this year, mind boggling he didn't get picked. From the scouting evaluations out there about Sam he went right around where he should have. He wasn't graded as someone that had enough versatility to change positions, he's at best a situational pass rusher.

ianlinross
ianlinross

I can't wait for the day when somebody's sexual orientation, tied to the job they do, won't be hogging the headlines.

SteelCurtainHurtin
SteelCurtainHurtin

@RichardCarter There was a time when the majority population in this country found it repugnant for a black man to kiss a white woman. Luckily, most of our society now recognizes that concept of "perverted" and "unnatural" as rooted in racism. Your feeling of repugnance is not "instinctive" any more than the above example. You have been taught to feel this way by a culture steeped in discrimination and intolerance. If you want to say that homosexuality conflicts with your learned values, that's another story.

JohnSmith25
JohnSmith25

@RichardCarter I think your post could have been shorter.  You could have simply said that Sam kissing his boyfriend on TV made you feel funny in your pants and you are confused.


Look, many of us are made uncomfortable by public displays of affection between people we are not attracted to. But the level of obsession that homophobes have about two men kissing is completely ridiculous.  Funny how many of those same homophobes are totally obsessed by two women kissing, but for totally different reasons.

RosaNosabe
RosaNosabe

@Steven30  Good point. But being defensive player of the year in the premier and most dominant college football conference ought to have some significant bearing.

KyleRohde
KyleRohde

@dryuri2003 Well, based on what's been written, it was an open secret in Columbia and most teams/scouts knew it too.

dryuri2003
dryuri2003

@KyleRohde @dryuri2003  Ok so some knew he was gay but now we all know he is gay...  Gets back to my point is I dont give a rats azz if he is gay or not.  I realize it might cause issues in the locker room, heck it might even bother me, If i knew a professional athlete and I were showering together and he was checking me out, again if I was a professional athlete. Everyone knows what a man things and its not always with his brain... hahah

dl55
dl55

@dryuri2003 @KyleRohde  Your right about not using their brain, these pro ball players leave kids all over the country for tax payers to make the welfare payments.

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