Before the world knew Michael Sam as [potentially] the first-ever openly-gay active NFL player, he was the best defensive player in the SEC in 2013.
He had a better season, at least according to whomever decides SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors, than You Tube sensation and potential No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney. The "insiders" and "experts" say Sam, a unanimous All-American, is a likely third-rounder. Some speculate his decision to openly announce the "worst kept secret" in sports may cost him some ground in the draft. More on that in a bit.
There's no real way to know if that will happen, or that it did happen after the draft. NFL draft "insiders" are often wrong about first-round picks who never said word about their sexual orientation. Never mind potential third-rounders who made sports history. Given the dysfunction in many NFL locker rooms and front offices, there's no doubt that some teams will specifically opt not to draft Sam just to avoid the "media circus" and fears of some players.
Too bad for them. There is one NFL team that not only needs an outside defender with Sam's ability to rush the passer, [he led the SEC in sacks last season], but would be provide the best environment for him to have the best shot possible at the NFL.
It's the same team whose Hall of Fame QB has biological clock that is ticking louder than the howling stray dogs of Sochi.
Yes, you know where this is headed, right down Route 1 to Patriot Place in Foxborough. Let's get one thing straight, Sam is no charity case. He is a legit threat to impact the NFL as a rookie. Given the basics for the defensive end, or in his case, likely outside linebacker position, there is no complex development needed for a rookie to make an impact at that spot. Sam is one of those players who probably won't have a defined position in the NFL. The same type that seem to flourish in the Belichickian Universe. He'd be a perfect No. 3 [for starters] behind Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich .
As long as he can rush the passer, or play coverage on the outside, especially when the Patriots have a lead late in the game, he's worth a shot on draft day, especially if he falls in the draft as some predict.
It's reasonable to say that the SEC All-Defensive Player of the Year might, just might, have a better shot at succeeding in the NFL than let's say, anyone who has played in the Rutgers secondary in the past 10,000 years.
"I don't think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet," one NFL player personnel assistant told Sports Illustrated Sunday. [SI, incidentally, was one of many media organizations which was prepared to "break" the Sam story but opted not to so that the player could come out in his own words.] "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. To call somebody a (gay slur) is still so commonplace. It'd chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room."
That will likely be tested in 2014.
The Patriots set the gold standard when it comes to turning the much-feared "media circus" into a band of traveling mimes. The Patriots gave Tim Tebow a chance in training camp and . . . nothing happened. He was mobbed for a day or two, then the Rule of Belichick was re-asserted and all normalcy returned to the world. There was one press Belichick press conference about Aaron Hernandez following his arrest, and then that subject was put to rest. Randy Moss, Rodney Harrison, Corey Dillon, among others, were also considered "distractions" and too hot to handle.
In some NFL locker rooms, there's no doubt Sam being gay would be a major distraction.
The Patriots do not have one of those locker rooms. For one, they already have an all-world media celebrity in Tom Brady. And if Belichick somehow deemed Sam worthy of one of those precious third- or fourth-round picks, there is no doubt there would be an absolute zero tolerance policy on discontent in the locker room because of it.
One embrace or welcome from Brady would carry the same weight as Pee Wee Reese embracing Jackie Robinson in Cincinnati or Ted Williams going out of his way to welcome Pumpsie Green to the Red Sox locker room.
And all of that bulls--t would be flushed down the very-much working toilets of Gillette Stadium.
Mike Sam having real-life boyfriend or Manti T'eo having a fake girlfriend - neither defines the actual player. T'eo, who had been projected as a mid-first-rounder when the world thought his late girlfriend had actually lived, fell to Round 2 before being drafted by the Chargers. Te'o had a very mediocre rookie season. But he was, nonetheless, still drafted and signed.
Straight, gay, married, divorced, wife-swapper, monogamous, not-so monogamous, porn addict, celibate, actual wives, fake girlfriends. Most adult fans and players don't care, as long as you can throw a two-strike curve, hit the five-spot, make free-throws or catch the damn ball when Tom throws the damn ball. As a fan, athletic performance is all that matters. My tolerance level extends to non-violent criminal activities, and to those, like Mike Vick, who have been convicted of brutal crimes and have served their sentences. In the NFL, as in most workplaces, job performance and one's ability to function with your co-workers are paramount. Vick did his time. He has a right to work.
Having Sam's introduction into the NFL come in Massachusetts would be fitting in the minds of some, given the fact that the Bay State was the first in the nation to legalize gay marriage. There's little doubt Sam would find some comfort in Foxborough that he might not get elsewhere, both in terms of the state's attitude on gay issues, and more importantly, the stability and maturity of the Patriots organization and those who run it. This is not a statement on gay marriage one way or another - as we avoid partisan and political issues here that have nothing to do with sports - but rather as a statement of fact based on observation and history.
From a purely mercenary and marketing standpoint, drafting Sam would be a huge boost for the team that staked so much and lost on Hernandez. Whatever teams drafts Sam will no doubt get undeserved "credit" for being a "ground breaking organization on par with the 1947 Dodgers." We won't go nearly that far. But it would be a great PR argument for the Patriots to blunt criticism on all sides by saying, "Hey, we gave Tim Tebow an opportunity. We gave Aaron Hernandez several second-chances. We drafted Mike Sam after he came out but not because of it."
Harrison Ford as Bill Belichick as Branch Rickey? Probably not.
When it comes to the Patriots, the issues remain The Patriot Way/Money, Football and Winning, in that order. Good, bad or otherwise.
Here's a brief bio of Sam produced during the 2013 season, courtesy of You Tube and the University of Missouri's Ministry of Propaganda:
Belichick is not going to waste a third-, fourth- or fifth-round pick on something just for PR purposes, nor will he do it to make some sort of historic statement.
That's why Sam would fit so well in New England. On paper and on film, at least. he fills a need the Patriots desperately need to be filled - that of consistent pressure on the QB. Not sure what the "experts" and "insiders" have to say about this subject. Nor do we care. These are many of the same "experts" and "insiders" who counted the Patriots out after they lost to the Bengals and had Peyton Manning as a sure thing to win the Super Bowl. They also found no fault in Manning's pathetic Super Bowl performance and spent last Monday contorting themselves in his defense.
Given what passes for news these days, to wit the breathless "Ed Murrow - This is London" coverage of non-working toilets in Russia, there's no doubt Sam's sexual orientation would have become widespread public knowledge soon. In a perfect world, this would not be news nor newsworthy, and be no one's business but Mike Sam's. His does announcement cuts both ways, however. It reinforces the notion, one held by this sometime journalist for many years, that a player's personal life has zero impact on how he's evaluated as a player. We don't judge our co-workers on whether or not they're married, gay, divorced, living "in sin," or sleeping with multiple partners at the same time. They are judged on their work, at least in successful organizations.
Mike Sam is gay? Don't care. Tom Brady is a Baby Daddy. Don't care. Vince Wilfork is very happily married. Don't care. John Lackey divorced his wife after she was diagnosed with cancer. Don't care. [Fill In The Blank] has eight kids with 13 different women. Don't care. Every single Olympic athlete is having sex with every single other Olympic athlete and 100,000 condoms won't be enough. Don't care. Tiger sleeps with every Perkins' waitress from Orlando to Augusta. Don't care. Will Middlebrooks is living with Jenny Dell. Don't care, even though it's great for page views.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, athletes are ultimately judged in the public arena by what they do in the athletic arena. Long ago, I learned not to choose my favorite actors, artistic performers and athletes based on their personal lives or political views, but rather their professional abilities. The same standard holds for fast-food chicken restaurants.
Mike Sam would come to New England as a football player. A damn good one, as well. That's the way he wants it. That's the only way the Patriots would allow it.
Which would make him a perfect fit.
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