Michael Sam is the first openly gay player eligible for the NFL Draft, which starts Thursday and ends Saturday. Most draft analysts see him as a late-round pick (the draft has seven rounds), though a majority of 21 scouts surveyed by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel say they would not draft him based on his skills.
If Sam is undrafted, that will logically lead many to conclude that him being openly gay was the deciding factor. Former Colts GM and now ESPN analyst Bill Polian would draft Sam and thinks he has a good shot of making a roster. Yet Polian said some teams will be reluctant to take him fearing a media distraction, getting attention unusual for a late-round pick.
"You're going to face public-relations issues with him that will be different than what your PR director is used to facing, no matter what market you're in," Polian said. "Because this now becomes an all-encompassing media issue, which you need to be able as a club to deal with."
What Polian said is similar to what NBA executives were saying late last summer about teams reluctant to sign openly gay Jason Collins as a free agent. Collins, a bench player, was not under contract prior to the season, though he was later signed in February by the Brooklyn Nets. After a brief flurry of media attention, Collins has simply been judged as a player, not a "gay player."
For the record, I think Sam will be taken in the fifth round, while Cyd says third or fourth. Even if he's undrafted, Sam stands an excellent chance of being invited to a training camp as a free agent. Either way, I expect him to compete for a job come July. He's a pass rusher and those are in great demand, so I expect some team either Saturday or after to take a chance on him.
I hesitate to simply blame homophobia should Sam go undrafted. The league does not coordinate picks, and draft strategy changes each round as certain players drop and others rise. So it's possible that 32 teams acting independently of each other might skip Sam for seven rounds in order to fill other needs; it happens every year with players judged as late-round picks. This story is far from finished.
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