Michael Sam made history Friday as the first openly gay player to play in a pro football game when he suited up as a defensive lineman for the CFL's Montreal Alouettes. The debut was not a success in terms of his play and the main beat writer for the Alouettes wrote a harsh takedown of Sam's performance, saying it was "much ado about nothing."
"So what was all the fuss about with Sam?" was the headline over the story by Herb Zurkowsky of the Montreal Gazette. The headline sums up the tone of the article, which also said teammates are upset over what they see as preferential treatment by Sam. One main sticking point is that Sam was allowed to keep his roster spot -- and keep collecting his reported $100,000 salary -- despite leaving the team for two weeks on the eve of the season and "still having [yet] to prove anything."
Sam was on the field for 12 plays and did not register a tackle and was a non-factor in the 26-23 loss to Ottawa. That's not that surprising considering it was his first game action since Aug. 28, 2014, when he played for the St. Louis Rams in their final exhibition game. That did not stop the criticism. More excerpts from Zurkowsky:
He stood with his back to us all for what seemed like an inordinate amount of time. And then, when Michael Sam turned around and saw the media throng surrounding him, actually asked if the contingent was for him?
We only hope he was kidding. If not, he must think Canadian journalists all are a bunch of rubes.
For a rookie who remains relatively new to this team - on top of someone who walked out on his teammates for two weeks at training camp, requesting permission to leave for personal reasons - Sam waxed poetically about the problems that seem to be plaguing this 2-4 team.
"This team's going through some adversity. We need to come together and bounce back," he said. "Only great teams bounce back through adversity. We have to find out what we're missing."
Privately, more and more players are criticizing the preferential treatment he has received. ... this is a problem that will continue festering unless Sam displays vast improvement. Quickly.
I am not going to criticize what Zurkowsky wrote. He has been around the team since camp begun and knows its inner workings much better than myself. I also totally understand if some teammates are growing resentful, especially after Sam left the team for undisclosed reasons. This happened when I was in Portland for the Nike LGBT Sports Summit in June and several gay athletes and coaches were pissed at Sam for leaving the Alouettes a day before the first preseason game.
Sam is a historic figure and will remain so regardless of how he plays. But just because he is openly gay doesn't mean he should get preferential coverage in and of itself. He is being paid to perform and one game after a year off is not a predictor of how he'll play going forward in the final 12 games of the season. He admitted he had some nerves prior to the game and still has time to show the stuff that made him the SEC's co-defensive player of the year in 2013. But whatever honeymoon he enjoyed in Montreal is long over.