Michael Sam, the openly gay NFL player who came out a little over a year ago, will join the season 20 cast of Dancing With The Stars on ABC. The new season begins shooting March 16.
As with everything Sam does, this move is already being hyper-scrutinized. Whether it's been kissing his boyfriend, appearing in a documentary, doing a commercial or telling the world he's gay, most everything Sam has done outside of practicing football and working out 24 hours a day in the last year has been criticized by somebody.
This move is no different. With the first-ever NFL Veteran Combine, which Sam hopes to attend, a few weeks away, people claim he's unable to prepare for that and compete on 'Dancing With The Stars' at the same time. We'll find out.
Yet the most general claim is, again, that he should be "focusing on football." When I was at the Super Bowl I talked to a bunch of athletes about this idea that they need to "focus on football" every moment of every day, and that everything else is a "distraction." Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins told me he needs to take his mind off of football all the time. New England running back Brandon Bolden said as a professional he needs to focus on his playbook and stay in shape, but that he needs to unwind regularly as well.
Has Michael Sam been frozen out of the NFL?
A year ago today Michael Sam came out publicly to a tsunami of support. Yet comments from NFL executives foretold his next 12 months as he struggled to latch onto a team as an openly gay man. Now he's fighting harder than ever to get into the league.
Just like athletes of every sport find time for business opportunities, this is the latest that Sam is pursuing. The public demands that Sam and other athletes like him "focus on football" at the expense of everything else in their lives. Because Sam isn't with a team and didn't make an active roster last season, people are furious that he dare step out of the weight room for a few hours a day and do something other than FOOTBALL!!!
Other NFL players have danced with the stars. Before his final season, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward won the competition in 2011. Certainly it's different - at least from the public's perspective - for a guy on the outside looking into the NFL than it is for a long-time veteran, but it's not like this hasn't happened before. Other athletes have danced while playing their sport, including Los Angeles Lakers forward Metta World Peace, Green Bay Packers wide receiver Donald Driver, NFL receiver Chad Ochocinco and boxer Victor Ortiz.
People on Pro Football Talk were quick to say he's hurting his NFL chances because NFL teams will see this as a lack of focus on football. Yet as I've detailed at length, the NFL teams already aren't calling. He's turned away offers for the last year, played the game, busted his butt and...he can't get a phone call. So I guess now the NFL teams are REALLY not going to call? Or maybe they're REALLY REALLY not gonna call? What exactly is going to be the consequence for a man whose snub by the NFL is already at historic levels - as in it's NEVER happened before?
Hopefully the NFL will welcome him to the Veteran Combine in a few weeks. We'll find out then whether the man can dance and prepare for football at the same time. On Twitter this morning, he made it clear he thinks he can:
Very excited to be a part of @DancingABC. Football remains my unquestioned number 1 priority, however, while I continue to train and (1/4)— Michael Sam (@MichaelSamNFL) February 24, 2015
stay ready, I am ecstatic to participate in a fun, athletic competition like so many players before me have done. Filming this (2/4)— Michael Sam (@MichaelSamNFL) February 24, 2015
offseason is very flexible and allows me to be part of the veterans combine 3/22 if accepted or any other workouts. (3/4)— Michael Sam (@MichaelSamNFL) February 24, 2015