I think it says something positive about society that one day after SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year, Michael Sam comes out as gay, the media has already moved on to way more important things…such as still debating and theorizing on why Shaun White opted not to compete in slopestyle. Now they can talk about not winning the Gold he was expected to, though regardless of what anyone says, a fourth place finish in the Olympics is hardly terrible.
That’s right, a nearly week old story about an Olympic athlete making a thought-out decision to not compete in a particular event is still commanding more headlines over the NFL soon having its first active openly gay player.
Barring a terrible combine or suddenly going all Aaron Hernandez on an acquaintance, Sam will be drafted. He’s an excellent player as evidenced by his accomplishments this year. Some draft analysts have him going as high as the second round. Most have him in the third. All of them have him going somewhere.
So where is that somewhere going to be? Let me be the first to say, let’s bring him to the Rams. Why? It’s the perfect environment for him. Look, one peek at Sam’s childhood/upbringing will lead you to the quick conclusion that coming out was hardly the toughest thing he’s dealt with. The kid has had three siblings die, and two more are incarcerated. He has a thick skin and will be able to deal with adversity.
Still, you know there are going to be times when some player or fan in a spectacular moment of ignorance and bigotry will drop a slur or worse yet, wax poetic on some obtuse philosophy about football being no place for a man like Sam. Thick skin or not, when adversity rears its head, it’s nice to be where you are comfortable, feel supported and can bank on the right people having your back.
So why the Rams? After all, if this were an episode of Family Feud, and Steve Harvey said, “Top five answers on the board, name a state associated with social tolerance,” think Missouri would crack the list? However, that’s where Sam went to college. And he came out to his team before the season started, and they all had his back. Nobody sold him out on Twitter. Nobody leaked a story anonymously to the press. They knew for months. We found out yesterday. Pretty freaking cool, huh?
Second, there’s coach Jeff Fisher. I’ve long thought that his reputation as a coach is inflated. I still think he lacks the ability to make the in game adjustments to steal the extra win or three over the course of a season that the top coaches always seem to somehow manage. And I’m still convinced his eye for talent has cataracts. After all, this is the guy who thought Jim Walton, who presided over a breath-takingly bad secondary in Detroit, had the chops to handle a defensive coordinator position. But as a human being, Fisher seems the type to have his priorities firmly in line, and any intolerance will, for lack of a better way to put it, simply not be tolerated.
Third, that defense is already populated with classy leaders; Chris Long, William Hayes, James Laurinaitas. Michael Brockers and Robert Quinn are growing into those roles too. (It’s worth mentioning Cortland Finnegan too. His atrocious play might spell release, rendering him a non-point, but nobody has ever questioned him as a leader to young teammates.) If these guys can provide an environment where young players deemed prone to getting in trouble, such as Alec Ogletree and Janoris Jenkins, can stay for the most part in line, providing a positive work environment for a teammate whose “difference” from everyone else is something as insignificant as sexual orientation should be a breeze.
Ultimately, Sam’s success or failure as a professional football player will probably have nothing to do with his orientation, and everything to do with whether he can physically and mentally compete at the next level, just like it does for everyone else trying to make the jump from college to the pros. Personally, I’d like to see him succeed and I think St. Louis is great place for him to start that journey.