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Monday, May 12, 2014

St. Louis blues: He’s here, he’s queer, and he’s in your face!

That’s a chant from a ‘gay’ (term of the day now) militant group from a few years back.

Way to introduce yourself to your teammates, Sam!

I don’t care what you do in the bedroom, it’s none of my business. I don’t need nor want to know. So don’t rub my nose in it. Don’t tell me he didn’t know this would be controversial, maybe even adversarial!

Michael Sam: Is emotional kiss exactly what some NFL teams were afraid of?

Michael Sam became the first openly gay player to be drafted by the National Football League Saturday. But he was one of the last players taken, and many questions remain.

By Mark Sappenfield, Staff writer / May 11, 2014

Michael Sam cries as he talks on a mobile phone at a draft party in San Diego after he was selected in the seventh round, 249th overall, by the St. Louis Rams in the NFL draft Saturday. The Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year last season came out as gay in media interviews this year.

ESPN/AP

Michael Sam, the first openly gay player ever to enter the National Football League draft, was taken by the St. Louis Rams with the 249th pick of the draft Saturday, proving precisely nothing about the state of homophobia in professional football.

Only one thing can be said with certainty: By taking Sam with the eighth-to-last pick of the seven-round draft, the St. Louis Rams saved the NFL a small public-relations nightmare.

Had he not been drafted, many questions would have been asked, most of them uncomfortable…

…And, most poignantly, did 31 other teams want to avoid the image that came after Sam was finally drafted, when he kissed his boyfriend on live television?

The only people who know the answers to these questions are the people in the personnel departments of the NFL's 32 teams. Any other speculation is just that, because, despite his pedigree, Sam was a marginal draft prospect.

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.

Even before the scouting events, Sam's limitations were known: "He's tight, he's stiff, and he's short. He's got a lot going against him," one scout told USA Today. What he does have is enormous heart and drive. "He's relentless, and players like that – they can make things happen just with their will alone."

But NFL scouts are often numbers men. They like "tangibles": 40-yard dash times, bench press reps, vertical leap. What you did in college is almost a secondary factor. The reason? In football, the leap from college to pro means going from playing against boys to men. As we are seeing with increasing clarity, the NFL is a brutal league, and success in college is no guarantee of success in the pros. To survive – to thrive – you need to be fast, big, and strong. 

By all these measures, Sam added to scouts' reservations by doing very poorly in the scouting combine. His pro day was better, but hardly overwhelming.

Before these scouting appearances, he was projected as a fourth-round pick, notes Nate Silver of ESPN's FiveThirtyEight blog. Afterward, he was projected for the sixth round. Sixth-round prospects like Sam have a 50-50 chance of getting drafted, Silver found in a data analysis.

Was the drop because of his performances or because he had come out as gay?

We don't know, but his scouting performances could certainly have justified the drop. On the other hand, those performances might simply have given teams the cover they wanted to avoid drafting a gay player. In a fascinating story written shortly after Sam announced that he is gay, Sports Illustrated found that several NFL executives and coaches said that Sam's sexuality would hurt his draft stock.

One NFL player personnel assistant said that NFL was not ready for a gay player: "It'd chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room."

There were hints of that when Miami Dolphins player Don Jones tweeted "OMG" and "horrible" in reaction to Sam's on-screen kiss Saturday…

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