I’m going to start this piece by briefly explaining my views on LGBT rights: I don’t care enough about what people do in their own private lives to take a stance on it, which I believe technically puts me on the pro-LGBT side politically. I am fine with this. I also want to commend Michael Sam on his announcement because regardless of your views on LGBT, Sam took a risk. He absolutely could have allowed the pre-draft process to run it’s course, been selected some time on Day 2 or in the early stages of Day 3 and then made his sexual orientation public. Coming out before the process is complete brings the fact that he is gay in to his evaluation. Teams have to decide whether they believe his sexual orientation is a distraction. Teams may drop him on their boards and if enough teams do it, his coming out will directly affect his salary for his first NFL contract.
Michael Sam is an exceptional football player. There is absolutely no doubt about that. He was the Defensive Player of the year in the country’s toughest and most athletic conference. He was a unanimous All American selection. He posted eye popping numbers this season. 48 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, nine QB hurries, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He was a playmaker. Those skills had placed him among the top 70-120 players that are draft eligible according to most experts. This would place him somewhere in the 3rd to 6th round range. There is real concern that avoid a “media circus” could cause a number of teams to choose another player over Sam that they may have rated closely or ever so slightly below the Mizzou defensive end.
Selfishly, I hope they do. I hope that front offices pass on a 3rd round talent to take somebody else because they don’t want to deal with the media. After that happens, I hope our favorite team, the Green Bay Packers selects him. Michael Sam’s sexual orientation never has, and will continue to not have anything to do with how effective he is playing football. Selecting a player with 3rd or 4th round talent in the 5th or 6th round has happened before due to “character issues”, but for Michael Sam, being gay is not a “character issue”. His possible fall in the draft creates a real opportunity, and I hope the Packers view it as such.
The first question of course is whether or not Michael Sam fits in to Green Bay’s system. The answer is a resounding yes. at 6’2″ 255, Sam is probably too small (short) to play defensive end in a 4-3. He will more than likely make the switch to linebacker in the NFL, and the Packers love to work with these conversions. Of the 5 OLBs that saw time with the Packers last season (Matthews, Perry, Mulumba, Palmer, Neal) only Matthews was not a converted defensive lineman. Michael Sam’s pass rush ability and general penchant for making plays could be a huge asset for this defense that is so lacking in both areas.
The second question that must be answered is will the Packers be interested? Would it be possible that a front office, with such a stoic and seemingly conservative man running the show in Ted Thompson, invite that kind of media attention to Green Bay? It sure seems like Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy is ready:
“I think you definitely have to feel he’s a courageous young man but my understanding is he’s a talented young player,” “We always from Day 1 talked about our program, about our culture. Ted is going through the draft process right now and at the end of the day it comes down to good football players.” “Any player who can come here and be a good teammate and follow the rules of our program, which is one be respectful and produce on the football field, we have room for that guy.”
The Packers are probably the team most prepared for the kind of media attention that the NFL’s first openly gay draft prospect would bring. They have dealt with a circus before. The summer of ’08 (FavreMania [side rant: I will not refer to it as FavreGate. Not everything is -gate. The scandal happened at the Watergate hotel. -gate is non-sensical. end rant]) was a nationwide circus and the four leaders of the organization, Murphy, Thompson, McCarthy and Rodgers handled it with aplomb.
If you’re going to try and hide a media circus in the NFL, why not try and hide the damn thing in Green Bay, Wisconsin, population 104,868? Green Bay is the NFL’s smallest market by a wide margin. The reasons that supporters of former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow were giving to bring him to Green Bay still apply here. It’s still a small town team in midwest America. The fans are still the best and most supportive group in the league. The national media circus certainly won’t be avoided in Green Bay, but it certainly would be knocked down a peg or two.
If Michael Sam should fall in the draft because his sexual orientation is viewed as a possible problem for NFL teams, I sure hope the Green Bay Packers take advantage of that. He’s a very good player at a position of need and if this announcement creates a bargain, I sure hope Mr. Bargain (Ted Thompson) is paying attention. It’s possible that looking at Michael Sam’s announcement from a football perspective and how it could help our favorite football team is selfish, small minded and a little simple. To me Michael Sam is just a good football player, and I am a simple man.