NFL Officials: Out Football Player Will Have Tough Future
Eight NFL executives and coaches told Sports Illustrated this week that Missouri defensive Michael Sam, who made headlines Sunday for telling the media he is gay, will have a difficult time in May, when the National Football League makes its draft picks.
SI writes, "In blunt terms, they project a significant drop in Sam's draft stock, a publicity circus and an NFL locker room culture not prepared to deal with an openly gay player," adding that prior to Sam's coming out, he was projected to be a mid- or late-round draft pick.
The article goes on to note the eight NFL execs and coaches, who remain anonymous, did not "overtly condemn" Sam's announcement, but their views showcase an NFL culture on openly gay players who may face a number roadblocks from teammates, fans, coaches, etc.
"I don't think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet," an NFL player personnel assistant told SI. "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."
Every NFL officials that spoke with the publication said that the athlete's coming out will cause him to drop in the draft, even though he was projected "between the third and seventh rounds prior to the announcement," SI writes.
"I just know with this going on this is going to drop him down," a veteran NFL scout told SI. "There's no question about it. It's human nature. Do you want to be the team to quote-unquote 'break that barrier?'"
A former NFL manager said "it would take an NFL franchise with a strong owner, savvy general manager and veteran coach to make drafting Sam work. He rattled off franchises like Pittsburgh, Green Bay, San Francisco, Baltimore and Indianapolis as potential destinations. The former general manager added that a team with a rookie head coach would not be an ideal landing spot."
An assistant personal director echoed the former NFL manager’s statements.
"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," the assistant personnel director told SI. "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."
An NFL assistant coach said Sam’s choice to come out was "not a smart move" as his announcement will most likely be the biggest NFL story from now until the draft picks in May. He added that his coming out "legitimately affects [his] potential earnings."
"You shouldn’t have to live your life in secrecy," the assistant coach said, adding, "but do you really want to be the top of the conversation for everything without ever having played a down in this league?"
He said that a franchises’ level of comfort with an openly gay player will decide Sam’s fate.
"There are guys in locker rooms that maturity-wise cannot handle it or deal with the thought of that," the assistant coach told the publication. "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."
SI notes that former National Basketball Association player Jason Collins, who has not been signed by an NBA team this year, came out last year.
If Sam does get drafted to a team, he would be the first openly gay American football player.
Sam made waves Sunday when he told ESPN, the New York Times and Outsports that he is gay.
"I am an openly, proud gay man," he said. He added that he was already out to all his teammates and coaches in Missouri. "It’s a big deal. No one has done this before. And it’s kind of a nervous process, but I know what I want to be ... I want to be a football player in the NFL," he told ESPN.
Despite the eight anonymous NFL officials’ opinions and predictions on Sam, the athlete has received support for coming out.
"It takes an incredible amount of courage to break ground on a social issue on a national stage," Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive said. "Michael Sam is a young man of tremendous fortitude and confidence. It is these traits that make it possible for him to be among the best on the field and now to have an impact on the world of sport in a very important way. I also applaud the wonderful support given to him by his teammates and the University of Missouri."
"I think a lot of guys in the NFL are going to say they will accept it, but there are a lot of guys who won’t," former NFL offensive lineman Frank Garcia, now a sports radio show host with WFNZ-AM in Charlotte, said. "The reality is Michael Sam will - is - going to open himself up to a lot of criticism and a lot of challenges. Those are challenges most gay people have to go through, but when you are dealing with alpha males and some meatheads in an NFL locker room, it’s amplified. And there are some guys who have strong religious beliefs too, so he’s going to be judged. He’s going to face some things that are going to be very difficult to overcome."