Memo to gay NFL players: Now is the perfect time to come out publicly. The NFL will throw you a ticker tape parade and put you on the cover of Madden '16 if it draws any attention away from the Ray Rice story.
Gay players create a "distraction" and a "media circus," many NFL personnel execs say about why Michael Sam was drafted so late and took so long to land on a practice squad. Yet the distraction caused by Sam was a light spring shower compared to Hurricane Rice, now hitting the league at Category 5 and showing no signs of weakening.
Sam was caught on tape this spring kissing his boyfriend and playfully shoving cake in his face. Ray Rice was caught on tape this spring knocking out his then-fiancee with one punch and dragging her out of an elevator. The former is cute and cuddly compared to the raw violence of the latter.
Sam's #96 St. Louis Rams jersey was among the league's best sellers and is now a collector's item. No one will be giving them away. In contrast, the Baltimore Ravens announced they will buy back Ray Rice #27 jerseys and any not exchanged will be buried deep in a closet.
After a brief flurry of well-managed media sessions, Sam went on to be treated as just another rookie in Rams camp. His coach and teammates spoke highly of him and said he caused zero distractions. The Rice story looks like it has legs, as people try and figure out whether the league and team were lying when they said they hadn't seen the knockout video until Monday. Rice's teammates are being asked uncomfortable questions about their support of him, and if the Ravens struggle on the field, Rice as distraction will be a constant theme.
Of course, I'm being provocative in urging gay players to come out since everyone has their own schedule of doing so. But I am doing it to make a point that all the bullshit we have heard about how hard and distracting it will be for an openly gay player to fit in should be rendered moot. And Ray Rice has shown that there are bigger issues for the NFL to deal with than someone's sexual orientation.
You better believe the Ravens would have been much happier had Ray Rice come out as gay this spring than as a wife beater. He'd still be on the team, they would have a reservoir of public support and the questions they would be facing are nothing like they're going through now. It's about time the league got its priorities in order of what a real distraction is like.