As the world reacted to the news that the NFL might soon see its first openly gay current player last night, so did anonymous NFL club officials. The feedback from decision makers around the league was not nearly as positive as the general public’s.
Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans polled eight NFL executives and coaches, and the overwhelming consensus was that the announcement would hurt Michael Sam‘s draft stock. The redshirt senior from the University of Missouri is predicted as a mid- to late-round draft pick, but one NFL player personnel assistant told SI he doesn’t feel football is ready for an openly gay player.
“In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game,” the assistant said. “To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”
Three general managers and one scout spoke on the condition of anonymity to The MMQB’s Peter King, with one GM saying his team had discussed the issue at draft meetings in recent days.
“First of all, we don’t think he’s a very good player,” the GM told King. “The reality is he’s an overrated football player in our estimation. Second: He’s going to have expectations about where he should be drafted, and I think he’ll be disappointed. He’s not going to get drafted where he thinks he should. The question you will ask yourself, knowing your team, is, ‘How will drafting him affect your locker room?’ And I am sorry to say where we are at this point in time, I think it’s going to affect most locker rooms. A lot of guys will be uncomfortable. Ten years from now, fine. But today, I think being openly gay is a factor in the locker room.”
The results were more positive today, as a legion of owners and coaches – each of whom were willing to put their names with their words – voiced their support for a potential gay player as a member of their team. Giants co-owners Steve Tisch and John Mara backed Sam loudly, in statements to TMZ and Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger respectively. Meanwhile, one team personnel executive told NFL.com columnist Judy Battista that he could see owners pushing their coaches and personnel staff “it’s OK” to draft Sam.
Other notable league personnel to come out in support of Sam include Bears GM Phil Emery, Packers coach Mike McCarthy and Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Kraft’s coach, Bill Belichick, released a statement via the team’s website, expressing that he and the Pats pursue players “who can best contribute to our team and organization, regardless of the matters being discussed today.” The league also released its own statement in support of Sam and his efforts.
Stepping away from the issue of Sam’s personal life, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said he has a “pretty good feel” for the undersized Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year, projecting him as a third- to fifth-round pick.
“He’s an explosive kid who’s much better going forward than he is going backward,” Mayock told Philly.com’s Paul Domowitch. “His size would dictate he’s got to be a linebacker, but I don’t think his physical skill-set dictates that, and therein lies the rub.”
With the NFL scouting combine less than two weeks away, each team will have its opportunity to interview Sam with this historic news out in the public. Sam’s performance at the combine could go a long way in defining his draft value, which was murky even before his announcement — given his size and speed, there are questions about whether he’ll have a true NFL position. A strong showing at the combine, along with impressive interviews with NFL teams, should solidify his place as a mid-round pick, particularly given the outcry of public support from various owners and executives today.
We’ll have to wait until May to know definitively what sort of effect Sunday’s announcement will have on Sam’s draft stock. But if the Missouri alum has shown anything to us this far, it’s that he’s mature beyond his 24 years and ready for whatever life has to throw at him next.