The first openly gay football player to ever enter the National Football League’s draft was also one of the last players to be picked, leaving many to question why exactly that was. Michael Sam was drafted in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams as the 249th overall pick and eighth-to-last to be chosen.
Now the buzz around the league and around the nation is about how the co-defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference not even get drafted until the end, when the Southeastern Conference is the top college football conference? Especially when a strong pass rush is what all the NFL teams are after these days?
This has led some to believe that it was because of his sexuality, that the teams didn’t want a gay player in their locker rooms and the Rams drafted Sam only to avoid a PR nightmare for the league.
As the Christian Science Monitor points out, “Had Sam been seen a can’t-miss NFL star – someone who could change the shape of a defense – teams could not have avoided taking him. But most agree that his stock was hurt at least as much by his poor performances in the scouting combines and pro days as by his coming out.”
Scouts look for numbers like his 40-yard dash time and how he performs in the gym, no so much his actual performance on the field. His competition is college was nothing like what he’ll face in the NFL and because of that his 11.5 sacks really didn’t do him much good as far as scouting is concerned. They knew his weaknesses prior to seeing him at scouting events, “He’s tight, he’s stiff, and he’s short,” one scout said.
Prior to scouting appearances he was projected to be a fourth round pick at best and after weak performances he was knocked down to the sixth round at best, and sixth round prospects have a 50/50 shot at being drafted. It’s hard to blame his sexuality when teams in the NFL look for the best of the best.
The other side to this might be that team executives didn’t want the media circus that would follow Sam around in their locker rooms and at training camp. Such a spectacle would be a distraction for players and might not be worth it for a lower-tier prospect. As the CSM pointed out, no other player got a congratulatory phone call from the President.
“Every Tom, Dick and Harry in the media is going to show up, from ‘Good Housekeeping’ to the ‘Today’ show,” a former general manager told Sports Illustrated. “A general manager is going to ask, ‘Why are we going to do that to ourselves?’ ”
Many now say that Sam ended up in the right place and with the right coach since St. Louis isn’t far from where he went to school, the University of Missouri, and fans in the region will have already warmed up to him. The Rams’ head coach, Jeff Fisher, is old school and will be able to keep any distractions limited and Sam is considered to be Fisher’s kind of player.
“Sam is a player who thrives because of his heart and will, a desire to outwork the competition. Fisher has long had affection for such players, and that’s probably how Sam won him over,” Jeffri Chadiha from ESPN wrote.
Sam said he’s proud to be a part of history with the Rams, who in 1946 signed the first black football player.
“This is the second historic moment in the history of this franchise,” he said. “From that standpoint, from a historic standpoint, I’m honored to be a part of that.”