On Monday, Michael Sam announced that he is gay, three months before the NFL Draft, making him the first openly gay athlete in any major American sport. Many have questioned whether or not football players will be responsive and respectful to adding Sam in their locker room?
In this day in age, it would be a surprise if he WASN’T accepted by teammates, coaches, and other members of the organization. There are two main issues that Michael Sam will face as he embarks on the journey from SEC Defensive Player of the Year to mid-round NFL prospect:
1) How will Sam handle the backlash from narrow-minded fans and the gay slurs that are thrown around in an NFL locker room?
There are fans who will go out of their way to taunt Sam, and there are NFL players who call each other gay slurs in a joking fashion. With a situation this delicate, it is not enough to simply enough for the organization that drafts Sam to have a pulse on the locker room culture. Sam should be treated as just another player, but with the sensitivity and acceptance of his sexual preferences.
2) Can Sam handle the transition from Missouri defensive end to NFL outside linebacker?
The reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year played for one of the most surprising teams in the country, and was aided by the play of Mizzou’s other defensive end, Kony Ealy, who projects as a top 20 pick in this year’s NFL Draft. At 6’2” and 260 lbs, Sam is the epitome of a ‘tweener; too small to be an every-down defensive end, too inexperienced in coverage to be an every-down outside linebacker. Sam is currently projected as a mid-round pick, and time will tell if his recent announcement influences where he gets drafted.
Best case scenario, Sam becomes Jarret Johnson, a former SEC defensive end and fourth round pick of the Baltimore Ravens who successfully made the transition to every-down outside linebacker. Sam’s added publicity limits the number of teams that have the means to draft him, and Sam’s transition to a 3-4 outside linebacker makes the pool even smaller.