“A Comparison To Jackie Robinson Is Not Entirely Inappropriate”

Readers sound off on the coming out of Michael Sam:

It is also encouraging that he plays in the SEC – basically the Bible Belt conference. An African-American NFL prospect came out to his teammate in a conference that runs through some of the most conservative parts of the country. An inconceivable idea not that long ago.


He came out before the draft. He knew this would possibly negatively impact his chances of being a top draft pick, and he still came out. There are already anonymous NFL sources saying it will negatively impact his draft chances. How “brave” of the NFL sources to remain anonymous as they predict his chances.


I moonlight as a college football writer, so I feel I can contribute on the Michael Sam coming out party. First, I think the acceptance by his Mizzou teammates speaks volumes.

You will sadly find NFL execs who say “the players’ culture isn’t ready for a gay teammate.”  This is such obvious bullshit, and reflects the homophobia of the execs themselves.  They tend to be older white men who rose up through the culture of homophobia that is the NFL.

Michael Sam is a fine football player, but as an NFL prospect, there are some question marks.  Sam is a defensive lineman who weighs in at 260, very small by NFL D-line standards.  Sam is also not quite nimble enough to move to linebacker.  He is what is known as a tweener.

What Michael Sam has is tenacity and intelligence.  In short, he is a bulldog on the field, but also has clearly responded to coaching and knows how to position himself to make plays.  Guys like him get overlooked and devalued in the NFL draft every year.  Before coming out, Sam was projected as a third round draft pick.

The question is, what happens now?  If Sam drops below the fourth round, I smell a rat.  Unless his pre-draft combine workout is abysmal, which is highly unlikely, Sam’s stock should remain what it was before coming out. That is, unless the team execs decide they don’t want a “distraction.”  If this is the case, and Sam falls to the late rounds, it is a very sad indictment of just how off mainstream thinking the NFL is on this issue.  The NFL is a win-at-all-costs and win-now league.  For execs to pass on the SEC Defensive Player of the Year simply because he is gay would show the just how deep their bigotry runs.

NFL locker rooms are full of hypocrites – guys who blather on about Jesus during the day and meet their mistresses at night.  What will be infuriating is the constant talk of the “sin” of homosexuality. Wherever he ends up, Michael Sam is going to have to deal with some pretty ignorant nonsense being spewed his way.

I know he would be accepted here in Detroit.  This town wants a winner so badly, so Sam would be judged solely by his play on the field.  If the other teams are foolish enough to pass on him, hopefully the Lions pick him up.

A comparison to Jackie Robinson is not entirely inappropriate.  From what I know about Sam, he has the character to withstand the ignorance, and the dignity to make them look like the fools that they are.  I wish him nothing but the best and will be rooting for him wherever he ends up.

And so will we. Update from a few readers, who take the rare opportunity on the Dish to talk sports:

I wanted to comment on the college football writer, who seems to get a lot of the facts right, and then somehow came to an entirely wrong conclusion. He says that “Guys like him get overlooked and devalued in the NFL draft every year”. I’d argue the other way, that college fans tend to overrate tweeners. But either way, NFL teams don’t tend to like tweeners. As your reader says, he is too small to be a traditional 4-3 DE. In other words, about 2/3 of NFL teams aren’t going to want him since he doesn’t fit their defensive system. For the other 1/3 teams he has the right body type, but would need to move from DE to outside linebacker, something your reader questions whether he’s fast enough to do. And the one game where he did play linebacker he didn’t look good.

After acknowledging all that, your reader claims, “Unless his pre-draft combine workout is abysmal, which is highly unlikely, Sam’s stock should remain what it was before coming out.” It’s exactly the opposite. He needs to impress at the combine, an average performance will almost certainly drop him. Now that the professional NFL teams are going to be able to work him out, as opposed to amateurs and judging him by his playing against inferior competition where his body type isn’t a liability, he is exactly the type of player who tends to drop on draft boards unless he impresses at the workout. Otherwise, just like your reader said, NFL teams will “devalue” him because that’s what they always do to tweeners. He is the classic example of a guy who “falls” from where the amateurs think he should go. And even if a team does like him, say in the 3rd round, since they know he doesn’t fit most team’s defenses, they might grab someone who is rated roughly at the same level as him since there’s a good chance he will be available later and the other player won’t.

I wish him all the luck in the world, but I’m worried to see how many places I’ve seen him mentioned as a 3rd round talent. People who don’t follow the NFL will think that any fall from that position will be because of his coming out, and it’s just not true. Mid-level prospects like him can go up 1-2 rounds by impressing teams, and drop 3-4 rounds by not. And dropping is a lot easier. Any projection of where he should be drafted that is made before the combine is not likely to be a fair evaluation of his potential as an NFL player, and people shouldn’t assume if he falls below the 4th round it’s because of him coming out.


I just wanted to chime in with an observation regarding Michael Sam’s commendable announcement: I’m assuming that some of the anonymous responses are in the vein of anonymous front-office commentary in the lead-up to every draft. Executives and agents engage in a complicated annual drama, with the former trying to obscure their interest in players and even deflate their draft value, while the latter try to elevate the draft position of their clients.  From the executive’s position, it’s a coup to draft a third round talent in later rounds: They’re balancing drafting early enough to get the player, but otherwise as late as possible to maximize their return on early picks. It’s a deeply cynical calculation until the picks are in.