Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

09 Feb 2014

Missouri DE Michael Sam To Be First Openly Gay NFL Player

Well, here we go. The time has come, and this isn't going to be like Jason Collins, some backup coming out in his late 30's. Michael Sam of Missouri, reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year and mid-round draft prospect, came out tonight in an interview with ESPN's Chris Connelly. Sam came out to his coaches and teammates in August, had a great season, and now will head to the NFL. We have to wait for the combine drills, but I must admit, I'm even a little bit more curious about the SackSEER projections now.

For more, here's Cyd Zeigler's story at Outsports about how the announcement all came together.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 09 Feb 2014

50 comments, Last at 13 Feb 2014, 11:36am by justanothersteve

Comments

1
by Will Allen :: Sun, 02/09/2014 - 10:31pm

My bet is that if the veterans, on whatever team drafts him, are convinced he'll make them money, they'll accept him like any other player.

2
by MilkmanDanimal :: Sun, 02/09/2014 - 11:16pm

This is a big deal, and I'm really looking forward to the day where it's not. Someday, "I'm gay" will matter as little as "I'm left-handed", and this is definitely a step in that direction.

I'm most definitely not going to read any comments on this story on any website, as I want the remaining faith I have in humanity to not be crushed.

Whatever team drafts him is going to pick up a whole bunch of new fans.

5
by DEW :: Sun, 02/09/2014 - 11:59pm

I'm guessing that team is not going to be Minnesota, for some reason related to the crushing of faith in humanity...

8
by justanothersteve :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 12:39am

Minnesota would be better than the Saints.

9
by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 12:39am

I actually think Minnesota might be more likely, depending on the outcome of the Priefer investigation. Zygi Wilf was reportedly pretty horrified by what he heard and was pretty openly supportive of Kluwe's activism while he was still on the team, and Mike Zimmer strikes me as the kind of coach who would basically tell his players to not care and just play football.

12
by Marko :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 12:47am

I likewise was thinking that the team will not be Minnesota, unless they want to try to show Chris Kluwe that he is wrong about them.

Good luck to Michael Sam. He will now become one of the biggest stories at the Combine.

I have read that he may play linebcker in the NFL. With a first name of Michael and a last name of Sam, he should play the Will linebacker position.

26
by CBPodge :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 8:48am

I had to check his Wikipedia page to be sure that wasn't his middle name. Alas, its Alan. I think in the pros he projects more to a Leo sort of position - 3-4 rush linebacker.

43
by coltrane23 :: Tue, 02/11/2014 - 4:38pm

My thought too. I checked his height/weight against Chris Clemons, and they're about the same listed size (Clemons is an inch taller). Curious to see how the Combine goes for him, but Clemons is on the wrong side of 30 for an NFL DE and is more expensive than a rookie so Seattle could be looking to reload.

11
by MC2 :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 12:46am

Actually, being left-handed should probably matter more, at least for a QB.

3
by Karl Cuba :: Sun, 02/09/2014 - 11:19pm

I'm nearly more surprised that he was regarded as a mid round prospect. He can rush the passer, has also shown run stuffing ability and that he can drop into coverage. He made the game winning play in his bowl game. The only knock is his lack of height but haven't Freeney, Dumervil and James Harrison proven that you don't need to be tall to succeed as a pass rusher? I only watched a couple of Missouri games, I thought he was paying a short of Von Miller role, am I right?

More can we hope that the NFL and wider media can do a quick flurry of reports and then move swiftly on to something more relevant.

7
by justanothersteve :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 12:27am

I live in St Louis, so I probably watched 4-5 games in which he played. He's both small and light for a DE and I don't recall him ever going into coverage at Mizzou. I'm not sure if he can transition to playing LB. His 40 time is going to be really important. Kony Ealy, his DE linemate, is more traditional-sized and considered a better prospect, though Sam had more impact all year.

As one of the few gay posters here, I admit I'm suddenly far more interested in where he is drafted than I was a few weeks ago. I'm wondering if he would have been better served by coming out after the draft, but I admire his coming out. I'm just worried about the inevitable media circus.

10
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 12:40am

I'm pretty sure he was dropping into coverage in the bowl game, I was trying to watch him and Ealy.

16
by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 2:14am

Watched footage of him earlier today, he dropped into coverage against South Carolina and seemed ok doing it. His run defense may be an issue, but it seems like he could be a good edge rusher.

13
by MC2 :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 12:47am

How do you know you're one of the few gay posters here? I mean, statistically speaking, you're probably right, but you never know. It's not like the readership here is a random sample of the general population.

15
by justanothersteve :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 1:40am

That's true. I should have qualified it by saying one of the few openly gay posters. I've seen one or two others, but there haven't been many of us. It's probably for the best anyway. Most of the gay football fans I know can't discuss football as intelligently as the people here, or as intelligently as my three straight brothers (who all would fit right in here).

27
by CBPodge :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 8:55am

In terms of actual cash, he's probably hurt a little by coming out early (not the usual way you use that phrase in respect of the draft!), but in terms of actual respect and treatment, I imagine it works out better for him now. Admittedly, from what I've read it seems likely that it was well known amongst teams, and teams may now drop him slightly down the draft board based on the idea that he might be a less attractive prospect for other teams. But he looks like a better guy to all teams than if he'd waited until straight after the draft to say "by the way, I'm gay, hope you don't mind that I didn't mention it to anyone until you'd agreed to employ me."

Given that he seems a bit of a project in the pros (as it seems he'll need to convert from 4-3 DE to 3-4 OLB, which may or may not be tricky for him, it'd be interesting to see if the media circus continued while he was not playing very much! I mean, the ideal thing would be for him to basically be "oh, yeah, Michael Sam, he's the gay guy, right?" in much the same way that you'd think "oh, PLAYER, he's the guy who's going out with CELEBRITY, right?" i.e. an afterthought, rather than the definition of who he is.

35
by Thunderbolt of ... :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 12:40pm

I don't know why everyone assumes he will need to convert to linebacker. Robert Mathis is smaller than him and played for a decade with his hand in the dirt. Elvis Dumervil is three inches shorter than him and has also had success as a 4-3 DE.

32
by The Hypno-Toad :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 11:20am

"I'm wondering if he would have been better served by coming out after the draft,"

You may be right, but the fact that he did this right now is my second favorite part of this story behind the fact that he did it. If he had waited until after the draft that could open up a whole line of second-guessing that could make the commentary on this more unpleasant than it is simply bound to be. It seems likely that there would be discussion about whether he had willfully misled the team that drafted him, whether he was showing that he would be a distraction to the team that had just signed him to a contract or that he was only brave enough to do it after he got that contract. That's leaving aside that there probably would be some pressure from most (if not all) teams to keep it to himself, avoid controversy/distractions and "focus on the playbook" or what have you.
There are also two huge advantages to getting this out of the way a week into the offseason, first the story can blow up and then mellow out to its minimum possible level of (still considerable) frenzy before the actual draft process starts and second, if there are any teams that would limit his opportunities in retaliation if he came out after he was drafted, well... Now they won't draft him. It's not like draft picks are so disposable that I can see a GM taking a player just to try to prove a point by punishing him for his orientation.

39
by LionInAZ :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 7:33pm

With any luck, a bunch of other gay football players will see this as an opportunity to come out as well, and negate this whole storyline.

4
by Tom Gower :: Sun, 02/09/2014 - 11:57pm

Comment test.

6
by Subrata Sircar :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 12:22am

SI reporting GMs expect him to drop from his previous 3rd-7th round status:

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/college-football/news/20140209/michael-...

Personally, I too hope that by the time my five year old graduates from college this won't be a big deal at all.

14
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 12:56am

Well that's quite sad if it's true. However, it could also be a case of teams using this as an opportunity to slam a guy in the hope that he falls to them lower down. I hope so anyway.

17
by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 2:27am

Just read the SI article. I understand their thinking, but I still consider it foolish. If a team thinks he can be a starting quality edge rusher, they should draft him.

28
by CBPodge :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 8:59am

On the other hand, it makes sense from a team's perspective even if the gay thing isn't a concern for them - if they think he is valued lower by other teams, there's no reason to pick him in the 3rd round when they are confident he'll still be there in the 4th round.

18
by Jerry :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 2:51am

By the time your son enters junior high, this won't be a big deal.

34
by Thunderbolt of ... :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 12:37pm

Unless Sam is completely blacklisted, which I can't see happening, his announcement will probably give other gay players at the college and pro level the courage to come out. If that happens, then it won't be a story a decade from now when yet another gay player makes the league.

48
by Alexander :: Wed, 02/12/2014 - 7:09pm

Anyone else suspect many of those "quotes" were made up by authors with an ax to grind?

19
by rfh1001 :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 3:18am

Since I'm sure some GMs ARE dropping him down boards, I hope Seahawks, Patriots, etc. are rubbing their hands together and thinking of market inefficiencies.

20
by justanothersteve :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 4:09am

I am hoping that a team like the Pats or Seahawks draft him. Other good spots for him would be SF, Baltimore, or Tampa (I have full confidence that Lovie wouldn't allow it to be a distraction and they actually have a decent defensive line). Worst case scenario: Cleveland or Miami.

21
by rfh1001 :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 4:55am

Yes. A team that's consciously addressing market inefficiencies is one of the ones that likely has its act together. I'd love him to be great - it would just make everything simpler - and playing for a Seahawks team that's jumping all over everyone. Although, and I really enjoy the Seahawks, the danger of tsunami of smug under these circumstances is a real one. There would be worse things to be smug about, but I don't think it would help the cause in The Football Republic of Texas. (One answer: f**k Texas. Not by a long way my preferred answer.)

22
by rfh1001 :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 4:56am

(Oh boy, Sam + Dion Jordan as pass rushers as Miami trades Tannehill to Indy for Trent Richardson…)

23
by rfh1001 :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 4:57am

(Indy trades Tannehill to Browns for Josh Gordon, obviously.)

24
by rfh1001 :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 5:00am

(End of 2014-15 Miami trades Richardson to NE for a sixth rounder, puts up three thousand yard seasons.)

25
by Thok :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 8:43am

Frankly, if Miami is trading anybody for Richardson, it's going to be Jonathan Martin. Or is that too obvious of a challenge trade?

29
by CBPodge :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 9:00am

Is it wrong to hope that he doesn't go to San Francisco, just to avoid the easy jokes?

30
by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 10:38am

Personally, I'm hoping he goes to the Jets, because he could end up doing well behind that defensive line (the aged corpse of Calvin Pace had ten sacks last year), but the Niners would seem to be a team set up well to deal with this.

Texas or the South might not be the worst place for him to go in terms of gay rights; if he ends up being a star player, any fanbase will support him, and he might change the most minds in those markets.

31
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 10:55am

The niners are pretty deep at OLB: Smith, Brooks, Skuta and Lemonier. He'd be buried deep and it's hard to suit up five guys there.

33
by TomKelso :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 11:48am

Not up on the capology of Dumervil's deal, but if Sam winds up in Baltimore, and can play at all, Ozzie will look like a genius again, and save the team money in the process.

36
by Duff Soviet Union :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 4:43pm

I'm sad to say that I suspect the result of this is that his on field play will be subjected to a ridiculous level of scrutiny and most teams will make a lot of excuses to drop him on the board. It won't be homophobia, how could anybody think that, it will be because he "takes plays off" (like everybody else does), is "too small" (bigger than plenty who have been successful) etc.

I'm already hearing that a lot of his sacks came against garbage competition, because apparently no other pass rushing prospect in history has ever padded their numbers against weak sisters.

37
by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 5:01pm

TO be fair, most of that is in response to the people who are aghast that he is viewed as a 3rd-round pick despite being the SEC DPOTY, as the past tells us that guys who won that award were all by-and-large 1st round picks.

38
by DavidL :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 6:21pm

I was reading up on the history of the award and was surprised just how often that was true. Two guys who won the award didn't go in the first round, and one of them was DeMeco Ryans. (The other was Chad Lavalais, whom I hate on a personal level for breaking McNabb's ribs in 2005, but otherwise did nothing noteworthy in his entire career.)

40
by justanothersteve :: Mon, 02/10/2014 - 8:52pm

The projections I saw before this week mostly had him going in the third round or later. I remember one mock with Sam drafted in round 2. I would have been pleasantly surprised (I am probably a fair weather Mizzou fan since I live in St Louis) if he had been drafted before the third day of the draft before all the recent news. I still expect him to be a third day selection.

42
by Rhombus :: Tue, 02/11/2014 - 2:10pm

Equally frustrating will be the amount of scrutiny placed against commentators and analysts who say things like that. People will raise legitimate concerns about his play and drop him on the board and be denounced as homophobes, as this comment implies. It's okay to defend him on the grounds that he should be treated like any other prospect, but it is dangerous to assume that any criticism is unjustified.

I'd say the biggest issue, at least on a national/media and not personal level, is not outright discrimination. It's that he will never be treated as a normal player, by teammates, by the media, by homophobes or by gay activists. Personally, I'm looking forward to the day where if a gay player is a bust or a star, then the only people who will care are people who care about football, and will only care because of football.

41
by The Hypno-Toad :: Tue, 02/11/2014 - 1:03pm

There is a part of me that wishes Jeff Ireland was still around, just to give him the opportunity to possibly embarrass himself and his organization during the interview process with Sam.

44
by Jerry :: Tue, 02/11/2014 - 7:48pm

The NFL is apparently farther along than we credit them for. Agent and former linebacker Ralph Cindrich tweeted a couple of links:

http://www.wtae.com/sports/steelers/sports-agent-on-gay-athletes-team-co...

A passage from When Pride Still Mattered, the Vince Lombardi biography:

http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1s0dsuk

45
by Rick_and_Roll :: Wed, 02/12/2014 - 3:02pm

I am more optimistic and think that this will not change his status and may improve it because I think a lot of owners would like the opportunity to be viewed in History as a Branch Rickey type figure.

If I were Peyton Manning, I would strongly want Denver to draft Sam (if it fills a need)... No other player carries more of the PR burden of his team than Manning. With Sam, Denver would have a truly nationally sought celebrity, or at least something else for the media to discuss. Ask Troy Aikman (Irvin, Sanders) or Elway (Sharpe) how beneficial it is to have someone on the team that deflects a lot of if the media focus away from the QB.

47
by The Hypno-Toad :: Wed, 02/12/2014 - 3:37pm

The Broncos could always use more pass rush. If I remember correctly, Shaun Phillips was on a one year deal and Robert Ayers's rookie contract may be up this offseason too. I just question where exactly he fits in Del Rio's defense. From what I gather about his size, he would most likely struggle on the defensive line, and with Trevathan and Miller as the outside linebackers, it's just hard to find where he gets on the field. But if he can be worked in as a situational Will linebacker and grow into a larger role over the course of a contract, there could definitely be a spot for him if he can display the strength to hold up against unexpected run plays.

46
by Rick_and_Roll :: Wed, 02/12/2014 - 3:02pm

I am more optimistic and think that this will not change his status and may improve it because I think a lot of owners would like the opportunity to be viewed in History as a Branch Rickey type figure.

If I were Peyton Manning, I would strongly want Denver to draft Sam (if it fills a need)... No other player carries more of the PR burden of his team than Manning. With Sam, Denver would have a truly nationally sought celebrity, or at least something else for the media to discuss. Ask Troy Aikman (Irvin, Sanders) or Elway (Sharpe) how beneficial it is to have someone on the team that deflects a lot of if the media focus away from the QB.

49
by Theo :: Wed, 02/12/2014 - 7:09pm

I'm not sure why his stock will drop.
Is any owner/GM afraid that the locker room will not accept him?
I think it's a loud minority going through some phase 4 "we're doomed with this guy on the team" before they realise it's totally absurd to take the gay part even in consideration. Michael Sam will make a joke, the room will laugh, some last guy will grumble and they are off to practice and no one cares anymore and focus is back to the question of how good of a football player he is.

Does any owner/gm seriously think that a part of the fanbase would turn their backs to the team if a gay guy is on it? I don't think so, but would anyone even miss that part of the fanbase? It's not like 100% of all christian (let's call a duck a duck here) season ticket holders will return them. Maybe 4. 5 Max.
People can come up with brain gymnastics to discriminate a gay guy, so I trust them they will also do some brain acrobatics to tell themselves "yeah but he's a good guy and wears the right uniform".

Is there a owner/gm homophobic enough himself to not pick him based on sexual orientation? Wouldn't he be toast if he openly admits that?

I have enough trust in humanity to think that this too, we will overcome.

50
by justanothersteve :: Thu, 02/13/2014 - 11:36am

Good points here. I now wonder if some teams with attendance issues will avoid him (e.g., Jax, STL). Teams with long waiting lists (GB, Wash, NE) don't have to worry about this. Snyder might be interested because it might deflect some of the Skins name controversy. In any case, unless his 40 time is awful, I still think he's drafted somewhere in rounds 3-5 which is where he was previously projected.