Now that Michael Sam, a University of Missouri defensive lineman and top NFL prospect, has come out as gay, the sports world is debating how this news will affect his chances of being drafted.
CBS Sports states that Sam's chances "began to drop because he announced he was gay," and Sports Illustrated, talking to eight NFL coaches and executives, reported that, "In blunt terms, they project a significant drop in Sam's draft stock, a publicity circus and an NFL locker room culture not prepared to deal with an openly gay player."
Jonathan Vilma, a New Orleans Saints linebacker, recently articulated what that "locker room culture" is -- discomfort. "Imagine if he's the guy next to me and, you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me," he told NFL Media's Andrea Kremer earlier this month. "How am I supposed to respond?"
Given Sam's announcement, Vilma attempted to clarify his comments on "Anderson 360" Monday night, saying that some players "don't know how to respond to [an openly gay teammate]. That's just what's going to happen in the first whatever, the first year, two years. When you have more players like Michael Sam coming out and saying that they're gay, the transition will be a lot smoother."
However, Sam has been out to his Mizzou teammates since August, who accepted his sexuality. In fact, Sam came out to his teammates before he came out to his family. ”I don’t think anyone in my family knew,” said Sam's aunt, Geraldine. “He’s made history. He really has made history and I’m really proud of him.” And the entire campus applauded him for his announcement on Sunday.
Redskins personnel executive Doug Williams acknowledged that there will be some "knuckleheads" in any locker room, but told the Washington Post on Monday that Sam's ability to be a team player is all that matters to the NFL:
“I’m sure he thinks it could hurt his draft status. Or it could help it. But at the end of the day, the locker room is what it is. You get a lot of people talking about the locker room, but at the end of the day, if you have not been in a locker room, you would never really understand a locker room. When you look at it, for five years, this young guy has been in a locker room. He’s been in the locker room with his teammates and they put their arms around each other and they went out and played. They had a heck of a season: finished No. 5 in the whole country, which means it wasn’t a big deal to them. They went out and played. At the NFL level, the bottom line is where does he rate as a player with the team that’s going to end up drafting him? That’s the bottom line and how we have to look at it. It was like I told someone earlier, Russell Wilson won the Super Bowl and nobody talked about him being black. I think eventually, we have to get to that point when we talk about people’s sexuality and get to that point where you say, ‘Hey, that’s their preference, but if he’s a good football player, and if he can help us win, he can be on my team.’ ”
Regardless of whether or not the decision to come out affects his NFL prospects, it's certainly true that Sam's coming out has started a necessary conversation of tolerance that many professional American sports teams have not yet had.
Williams, who made NFL history by being the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl, dismissed the "knuckleheads," saying, "at the end of the day, if this guy is strong enough to come out, he’s strong enough to handle a whole lot of stuff.”