Missouri All-American defensive lineman Michael Sam is poised to become the first openly gay player in the NFL after coming out publicly in interviews published Sunday by the New York Times and ESPN‘s “Outside the Lines.”
But just when during May’s draft will that potentially happen? SI.com interviewed eight NFL executives and coaches, and all of them agreed that Sam’s announcement would have a negative effect on his draft stock.
Those interviewed by SI.com were granted anonymity “for their honesty,” the article said.
“This is going to drop him down,” a veteran NFL scout said in the SI.com article. “There’s no question about it. It’s human nature. Do you want to be the team to quote-unquote ‘break that barrier?’”
Sam led the SEC last season with 11 1/2 quarterback sacks. But at 6-foot-2, 260 pounds, he already was projected to be a middle-to-late-round NFL prospect by most estimates before revealing his sexual orientation.
Now, those interviewed are predicting, he could come with a huge media circus and create unrest in the locker room. And that could weigh heavily on the minds of coaches and executives as decisions are made on draft day.
“You’re going to have to have one confident general manager or head coach that is certainly entrenched in his position and established to draft a player like that,” an assistant personnel director is quoted as saying in the SI.com article. " It’s one thing to have Chris Kluwe or Brendon Ayanbadejo, advocates for gay rights, on your team. It’s another to have a current confirmed player.”
A former general manager said in the SI.com article: “That will break a tie against that player. Every time. Unless he’s Superman. Why? Not that they’re against gay people. It’s more that some players are going to look at you upside down. Every Tom, Dick and Harry in the media is going to show up, from Good Housekeeping to the “Today” show. A general manager is going to ask, ‘Why are we going to do that to ourselves?’”
The former GM listed Pittsburgh, Green Bay, San Francisco, Baltimore and Indianapolis as franchises that might take a chance on Sam, adding that teams with rookie head coaches may not be as willing.
An assistant head coach said in the SI.com article that coming out right now was “not a smart move” because it “legitimately affects [his] potential earnings.”
“There are guys in locker rooms that maturity-wise cannot handle it or deal with the thought of that,” the assistant coach said in the article. “There’s nothing more sensitive than the heartbeat of the locker room. If you knowingly bring someone in there with that sexual orientation, how are the other guys going to deal with it? It’s going to be a big distraction. That’s the reality. It shouldn’t be, but it will be.”
A player personnel assistant added in the SI.com article: “I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet. 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. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”
For the record: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the NFL draft is in April.