The NFL Draft officially begins today and no other NFL hopeful has been getting more attention than All-American player Michael Sam, who came out of the closet in February and has since been poised to become the NFL’s first openly gay player to be drafted. However, experts say that, although Sam’s popularity and legacy may land him a pick, there’s still a very real chance that he may not be drafted by a team. Recently, fay former NFL player Wade Davis spoke with The Washington Post about the matter and explained the complexities of the coming decision the NFL has to make.
Although Sam is decorated former college football star, having earned the title of Associated Press’ SEC Defensive Player of the Year, his projections as a third-round pick in the draft dropped substantially, 70 places, just hours after he came out, adding credence to the claims that the NFL was still too homophobic to accept an openly gay player.
Sam also suffered a poor scouting combine, a slightly better pro day at the University of Missouri, and several more months of criticism about his performance. Whether the criticism was fair or not, Davis explains that the NFL has a hard decision when it comes to drafting Sam.
“The NFL kind of has no-win in this situation,” said Davis, who himself came out after his NFL career ended and is now a gay rights activist. “Because if he doesn’t get drafted, it’s going to be positioned that he didn’t get drafted because he’s gay.”
Many of Sam’s NFL critics have remained anonymous, but this week the Milwauke Journal Sentinel polled 21 NFL scouts about Sam and five said they wouldn’t use a draft pick on him, and an additional seven said they wouldn’t even sign him to a free-agent contract. None was willing to take him before the fifth round.
However, Davis says that the criticism is simply based in fear of change in the NFL by having a gay player.
“When you see anonymous people and people who are leaking stories, they’re afraid that their good old football is going to look a lot different. And it’s not,” said Davis. “They’ve never seen a game Michael Sam played, but they just assume he’s going to be out there with pom-poms.”
However, former NFL executive and current ESPN sports analyst Bill Polian says that Sam will likely still be drafted in the later rounds.
“Most teams will view his athletic numbers as marginal, even as a special teams contributor, even despite the fact that he’s a tough, hard-nosed football player,” said Polian. “. . . What does that translate to: fifth, sixth, seventh round? That’s what it translates to. I think he’ll be drafted, and I think he’s got a better than even chance to make a team.”
And Davis agrees, saying Sam is a shoe-in for a draft pick, saying that Sam, who will be watching the Draft with his family in Texas, isn’t worried about his chances.
“Michael Sam has proven he can play,” Davis said. “He just wants to have the opportunity.”
And we hope that he’s put enough work in to have the opportunity granted to him and we wish him good luck this weekend. –nicholas robinson