When it comes to Michael Sam, those who believe the NFL turned its back on a talented football player because of his sexual preference are either blinded by ideology or fail to understand the only goal that really matters in the league — winning.
Sam found a new home in Montreal late last week, signing a two-year deal with the CFL’s Alouettes where GM Jim Popp considered Sam’s sexuality a non-issue.
“Michael Sam is a very good football player, and that’s the reason we signed him,” Popp said. “He’s an outstanding pass rusher.”
By claiming Sam’s status as an openly-gay player was a non-issue, Popp, whether he meant to or not, intimated it was a problem for others.
So is it?
Here’s what I know:
As the 2014 NFL Draft approached Sam was considered to be a final-day pick or high-priority free agent despite his impressive production at the college level, where he was co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year at Missouri, due to size and athletic limitations.
Three different scouts described him as a classic tweener, Sam lacked the length to be an impact player at defensive end and the lateral mobility to play in space as an outside linebacker.
To those who understand the game, those scouting reports seemed fair but to those who don’t, the league was showing its intolerance toward the first openly-gay player trying to join its ranks.
Jeff Fisher, one of the NFL’s most loyal soldiers, and the St. Louis Rams took a flyer on Sam late in the seventh round, perhaps as a political favor to the folks on Park Avenue, and Sam quickly made a separate deal with OWN, Oprah Winfrey’s television network, for a reality-television show before bowing out of it after the Rams balked and plenty of others criticized.
After a productive preseason on the field with St. Louis, Sam was dropped by the Rams, who were very deep on the defensive line, before eventually ending up in Dallas on the Cowboys’ practice squad for a few weeks.
Since leaving North Texas Sam’s had more experience on “Dancing with the Stars” than the NFL, making one last effort to return to the league by attending the first-ever veteran combine earlier this spring.
When nothing came of that Sam took the fork in the road that pointed north, signing a two-year deal with Montreal last week and sparking another round of debate.
The activists in Sam’s corner, however, simply don’t understand that most of the personnel people in the NFL would sell their souls for Ws and if a gay man got them there, so be it.
To me Sam is not an NFL player right now because of his aforementioned physical limitations. That said, it’s extremely hard to argue that the Mizzou product shouldn’t be an “offseason NFL player,” meaning when the roster swells from 53 to 90, Sam should have had a home somewhere as a camp body at the bare minimum.
So what gives?
Did Sam not want to spend the summer working on his game at a first-class facility with an NFL team while staying on the league’s radar or were organizations actively trying to keep him away due to his sexuality?
The answer is neither.
Much like Tim Tebow, distraction is the far bigger deal with Sam.
Most in the NFL are far more concerned with Sam’s dalliance with reality television and the media that follows him than his sexuality.
Remember most teams avoid a hardcore-football show like “Hard Knocks” like the plague, never mind a purely entertainment-based vehicle.
The real debate is NFL circles is whether or not Michael Sam wants to be a reality-television star or a football player.
None of this is to say there aren’t plenty of Neanderthals in the game of football when it comes to an openly-gay player in the locker room, and it’s more than conceivable to say some of the criticism directed at Sam is somewhat framed by that natural bias.
But Sam’s “reality” is that many people in the league he wants to play for believe he would rather be the next Kardashian than the next Robert Quinn.
And if he wants to change that narrative, Sam’s only goal in Montreal should be to prove he’s dedicated to his craft by lighting up the CFL and taking the opportunity to become the next Cam Wake, another tweener who was converted
from linebacker to end when he joined the British Columbia Lions in 2007.
Wake was the CFL Defensive Player of the Year in each of his two seasons up north before signing with the Miami Dolphins, where he has become one of the better pass rushers in the NFL.
Or Sam can shop the rights to his sojourn to Quebec and hope E! bites.