Michael Sam, a college football star who announced a some months ago that he is gay, was selected at the end of today’s NFL draft by the St. Louis Rams. I saw Sam play a few times this past season. To me, he looked considerably better than a “supplemental” pick in the final round. Moreover, he was defensive player of the year in the SEC, college football’s premier conference.
However, as the great Ken Beatrice used to say, I have “neither the sources nor the resources” to scout college football. So I’ll defer to the talking heads who declared that Sam’s unimpressive “measurables” (40 yard dash time, vertical leap, broad jump, etc.) explain the fact that he wasn’t taken earlier.
Sam has said, sincerely I assume, that he wants to be thought of as a football player, not a gay football player. That won’t happen because the media won’t let it. It will root for Sam and hope that the rest of us follow suit. Consistent with Sam’s wishes, I will root neither for nor against him.
The media folks keep saying that Sam will be the NFL’s first openly gay active player. That’s true in a sense. But Ray McDonald, taken by the Washington Redskins in the first round of the 1967 draft, was sufficiently open about being gay that much of “Redskins Nation” knew. Some of my high school friends used to joke about it.
Fortunately, the Redskins organization was more mature. The legendary Vince Lombardi, who coached the Redskins at the time, reportedly told his staff “if I hear one of you people make reference to [McDonald's] manhood, you’ll be out of here before your ass hits the ground.”
Let’s hope that the same rule will apply within the St. Louis Rams organization.