The false speculation about Michael Sam, and why he didn’t make it in the NFL as the first publicly out gay player, is being reheated this weekend, as the NFL Draft takes place in Cleveland.
The National Review is the latest to take a stab. Writer Jim Geraghty splices together a bunch of Google searches and determines that Sam was just so distracted by his desire to be on TV, and LGBTQ groups wanting to make him a “spokesperson” for the community, that he wasn’t really committed to making it in the NFL anyway.
Oh, and he was no good as a player, on top of it all.
“Yeah that is completely false,” Sam messaged me this week. “I love football and it gave me so many cool experiences. I wished it would’ve last longer, and I wished I would have gotten over the bitterness sooner, but I loved the game.”
Here’s the reality. Sam had a good preseason with the St. Louis Rams in 2014, after being selected by the team in that year’s Draft. His performance led many to think he would land somewhere in the league, if not with the Rams (whose roster was, admittedly, already pretty full at his position). He made it to the final cut that preseason, yet after an eight-week stint on the Dallas Cowboys practice squad, he was out of the NFL for good.
During that time, Sam focused on football. The national LGBTQ groups the National Review claimed were too much of a distraction agreed that Sam’s best place in the movement was on a football field, not LGBTQ fundraisers. Sam did very few media interviews, and he turned down many other opportunities.
In 2014, Sam was focused on football.
To be sure, the Rams weren’t thrilled when they learned of a documentary Oprah Winfrey was producing, following Sam’s life and the start of his career.
But it wasn’t Sam who was distracted by this, it was the NFL media and the Rams who were. Nonsensical claims of betrayal abounded.
All along, it was everyone else seemingly more obsessed with every step Sam made. He took it all in stride. So many others blew it all out of proportion.
Frankly, I’ve always felt the reaction a lot of people had to any attention he received was rooted in homophobia, that this one guy must be held to a higher standard simply because he was gay. Like the Rams and people in the media were doing him a favor by treating him like a football player.
By the time Dancing With The Stars came calling in 2015, every single NFL team had decided the guy who a year ago was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and who had made it to the final roster cut just months earlier, had no place on their team.
All 32 teams declined to sign him to just a futures contract, which would cost the team literally zero. Literally.
It’s not like Sam was able to bounce from practice squad to practice squad, training camp to training camp, in the coming years. NFL teams shut the door on Sam as quickly as it had opened.
Sam wanted more than anything to be in the NFL.
To be sure, no player has a guaranteed career in the league. Some of the best college players fizzle out quickly, for all sorts of reasons.
We’re all left to wonder what combination of elements combined to end Sam’s NFL career before it started.
Yet this notion that’s been peddled for years that Sam, his agents and managers were more focused on being on reality shows and the grand marshal of Pride parades is patently false.