It is 2014, and we finally have come to the moment where an openly gay athlete plays in the NFL (well almost). And, the Pittsburgh Steelers would be a good home for someone with Michael Sam’s skill and character.
The soon to be graduated Missouri Tiger defensive end and 2013′s SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year, Michael Sam, made claims to be openly gay while on Outside the Lines just two weeks before the combine begins. The media will swarm the combine, and Sam is sure to be the centerpiece of many features from the NFL Network to ESPN to his own hometown paper. What I hope does not happen in the maelstrom during that combine and leading up to the draft is that a pretty darn good football player gets lost within the mix of something that hopefully one day will not be considered ‘news’ and is treated with the same grain of indifference as if I just walked up to some stranger and told them I got laid last night.
Let’s then turn this discussion to his accomplishments and skills.
DE Michael Sam College Stats
Sam had a monster senior year at Mizzou. He ate up linemen, ball carriers, and quarterbacks all season long. However, he reportedly struggled during the week of the Senior Bowl when NFL teams usually work out with certain prospects. As a defensive end, scouts sought out some drills and work to see if he could have the same effect rushing the line while standing up rather than in a 3-point. Bleacher Report’s Gary Davenport quoted a report from the Kansas City Star that scouts were not impressed.
They tried him all over the place and he never really found an identity or comfort level that guys find during the week. It’s tough to play in a spot you’re not comfortable with in front of all these NFL teams and learn it in three days.
Despite Sam’s struggles at trying to play OLB for three days, I think there is a huge upswing to having someone like Sam. True, my only example would be the progress we’ve seen in Jarvis Jones during the course of his rookie season. But, the Steelers could expect similar results with Sam over time. Jones and Sam are of the same cut, and we could see that as Jones began to improve technique, the natural speed he brings to the field becomes a good pass rushing combo. The Steelers lack depth at the linebacker position, and Sam could certainly be groomed as a starter while providing depth. Rob Rang from CBS Sports compares Sam to Elvis Dumervil. Sam does stand a chance in the league at the linebacker position if teams feel he is too small at the defensive end position.
Lastly, Sam has shown that he exudes character and maturity. At 24, Michael Sam has proven before even stepping onto a field in the NFL that he has the character, class, and maturity to belong on a football team in the NFL. He has shown that he has endless courage for coming out as being gay before he even plays a snap, before he enters a training camp, before he is even selected by a team. I want that guy in my locker room. I want that guy to be lining up with my fellow teammates and battle on the field with his band of brothers.
Teams in the NFL may think differently of what is best for them in the locker room. Remember, it was only last year’s draft when it was reported that then University of Colorado Nick Kasa was asked, “Do you have a girlfriend? Are you married? Do you like girls?” And let’s not fail to mention the continually unveiling of the Chris Kluwe situation in Minnesota. The league may have a ‘policy’ about discrimination in the workplace, but with the subjectivity involved with on-field job performance, that’s a very difficult thing to enforce unless there is some very damning evidence.
Michael Sam probably won’t go in the first or second rounds. He will probably fall to the 3rd or 4th rounds unless he makes a huge impression during the combine – and even then he still might fall. The Steelers lack depth at LB and need to continue focusing on getting the median age down on defense. Sam possess speed and some skills to build off of during the early years of his NFL career. He possess a certain amount of maturity that not many young men in the league practice. And he is mighty courageous within the context of his life and his future as a professional football player.
Michael Sam is gay, but he’s also a pretty damn good football player too – worthy enough to at least try on that Black & Gold. He did pretty well wearing it while at Missouri.