Michael Sam’s bid to be first gay NFL player reveals how shallow team executives still are

Posted: 02/11/2014 in football
Tags: , , ,

The news that Michael Sam will be the first openly gay NFL player sure prompts a lot of thoughts.

For the first time in forever, I thought of one our favorite pastimes as teenagers. There was a mall called Parkway Plaza where there were several cubbyholes for pay phones (yes, I’m aware some of you have never seen a pay phone) on the main concourses.

Whoever wasn’t to the far right was in big-time trouble when one of those openings appeared. That was because the person on the far right would yell “I’m gay!” super loud and push you further into the center of the mall while he jumped into the pay phone area and would be out of sight.

And what happened every single time was some older adult would turn around and shoot you one of the most disgusted looks of all-time, not knowing that it wasn’t you delivering the declaration.

One time a woman turned around and said “you should be ashamed of yourself” to one of my shocked friends.

It was all fun and games as a kid but fast forward to the second decade of the 21st century and I don’t think today’s teenage kids are caught up in the homophobia of my era.

But when it comes down to it, it’s really not the 20-year-olds of today that most worry me about Sam’s decision to reveal his sexual preference. It’s those guys that are close to my age – and the ones much, much older.

As soon as Sam announced he was gay on Sunday night, stories immediately appeared on how the Missouri star – the co-defensive player of the year in the SEC, the best conference in college football – would see his draft stock drop sharply.

One anonymous general manager said he didn’t think Sam would even be drafted.

That last line is really, really sad. Pathetic, even.

NFL teams sign all kinds of shady people – women beaters, people who shoot or stab others, drug addicts, Aaron Hernandez and Richie Incognito to name two despicable humans – and the only question that matters in those cases is this:

Can he help us win football games?

So a guy who was being mentioned as a possible third-round pick goes all the way off the draft board because he was honest and up front about who he is OFF-THE-FIELD?

Yeah, that makes total sense.

Instead of dropping tens of thousands of dollars a night in strip bars, Michael Sam will be home resting up and perhaps doing extra studying of the opponent’s offense. You surely don’t need to worry about him chasing women all night on a road trip and/or cheating on his wife, like many of these clowns often do.

One front office executive said the following in an article published by Sports Illustrated shortly after Sam’s announcement:

“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,” the guy hiding behind anonymity said. “To call someone a (gay slur) is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”

The phrase “man’s-man game” by someone not brave enough to put his name on his comments kind of jumps out at you, doesn’t it?

My job description called on me to frequent NFL locker rooms in two different stints of covering the San Diego Chargers – a five-year span in the late 1990s and a two-year stint in 2007-08. I definitely heard the term that is used to refer to gay people on occasion but I will say I heard the P-word that stands for a woman’s genitalia much, much more.

I can remember the last time I heard the gay slur used in the Chargers’ locker room. It was late in the 2008 season and it was used by a player in reference to the team’s assistant public relations director. The player and a reporter for another entity saw the PR guy walk by and once he was out of sight, both expressed their disdain for the guy and out popped the term and the reporter responded with a different offensive term.

But addressing other players with those terms was a very rare occurrence – at least during the period the locker room was open to the media. Like I said, the preferred way to denigrate someone was using a term referring to women, not ones offensive to gay people.

Like any workplace, there will be some players uncomfortable with Sam’s openness about being gay. But I’m pretty confident there will be many, many more players who don’t really care.

The problem is that the older decision-makers do care. Some of them care way too much. That was clear by the comments – all anonymous, the typical cowardly NFL way – that appeared after Sam revealed his truth.

The NFL is the ultimate all-boys club and those executives at the top of the scale have typically been in the game for a long, long time. All the way back to when football was a “man’s-man game” and they were brought up in this environment and buy into the system.

No player wants to be thought of as soft and that’s what the view is from the lens of older executives when they suspect a player might be gay. Imagine how many players have dropped on draft boards over the years due to suspicion because they – like Sam – weren’t seen in the company of females.

So perhaps this is where Michael Sam’s biggest obstacle lies – with decision-makers of NFL teams. Heck, his college team at Missouri knew he was all gay all last season and they somehow still managed to go 12-2 and finish fifth in the country.

NFL teams always say they are about winning. Here’s an opportunity to really prove it.

Instead of dropping a bona fide NFL player off the draft board, how about assessing whether or not he can be an asset to your organization, the same way you do for every other player you analyze?

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