The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Will Korn 

Talking Sports: Cowboys keep NFL in public's good graces by adding Sam

 


Let’s be real here for a moment.

Michael Sam, who is now the first openly gay player ever to play in the National Football League, fell to the seventh round and the 249th overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft in May for a reason.

Don’t let anyone try to tell you that his draft position accurately reflected his ability as a football player compared to other draftees. Sure, he’s only 6-foot, 2-inches and weighs just 261 pounds.

That’s probably too small to be an effective defensive end and although he definitely has the size to be a sturdy linebacker, he might need to trim down a little to man that position.

It’s true that his showing at the NFL combine was less than impressive. But football players are human, and they’re entitled to a day off their game here and there.

How in the world does the 2013 Co-Defensive Player of the Year in the Southeastern Conference – still king in the college football world, however unfortunate that is – fall that far in the draft? How were there 248 other players better than Sam?

There weren’t.

Again, let’s be honest with ourselves. Sam fell to 249th overall, not because he wasn’t worthy of being a higher round selection, but because he’s gay and 31 NFL teams had a clear problem with him potentially being in their locker room as a distraction.

By drafting Sam, the St. Louis Rams took a huge step into the forefront and probably saved the NFL’s reputation on the third day of the draft back in May.

It was an emotional scene. You could see the overwhelming sense of relief as Sam broke down into tears once he heard his name called. Some people will assert that the Rams simply used a late round – and therefore relatively expendable – draft pick to make a move that would be seen as positive for many reasons besides football.

St. Louis has a sizable gay population, plus Sam was somewhat of a local star coming out of the University of Missouri.

Then the Rams – after Sam had what can be considered a very productive preseason – released him, claiming he wasn’t a fit in the team’s defensive scheme and that he was beaten out for one of the last remaining spots on the defensive line fair and square.

Don’t buy into that either. At first it might seem plausible because of the sheer amount of talent on the Rams’ D-line. But here are some numbers that more than suggest otherwise.

Sam played 133 snaps over the Rams’ four preseason games. Seventy-seven of those snaps qualified as “pass-rush” snaps, where some level of pressure was applied to the opposing quarterback. Among those plays, Sam accumulated three sacks – one of the ever-elusive Johnny Manziel – two quarterback hits and four quarterback hurries.

That equates to this: on about 11.6 percent of pass rush plays, Sam was directly involved in the result. For a rookie, that is a very respectable percentage – especially for a guy who supposedly “doesn’t fit” within the Rams’ defensive scheme.

Surely, the Rams could have found a spot on the 53-man roster for someone who performed that well in four preseason contests. It’s obvious he would never have been a starter – he doesn’t have the ability of Jadaveon Clowney, although his work ethic is far more impressive than that of the No. 1 overall pick.

But was it too far-fetched for head coach Jeff Fisher to dress him as a backup? Not at all. Still, St. Louis found a reason to let him go.

Here’s my problem with this whole situation:

St. Louis’ decision to release Sam looks awfully pre-determined at this point. They knew they were going to run a 3-4 defensive scheme this season. If they ever had the slightest doubt that Sam couldn’t maximize his ability in that system, why did St. Louis draft him?

Because he is gay and they wanted to make their franchise look warm, fuzzy and accepting. That’s fantastic for them and for Sam – as long as Sam actually got a real shot to play for that team. But he didn’t, and to me, the Rams essentially “bluffed” by letting him go.

So enter the Dallas Cowboys, who signed Sam to their practice squad Wednesday morning.

This is a great move in many ways for the Cowboys and for football.

First and foremost, it proves to the world that professional football wouldn’t leave Sam in the dust. The fact that another NFL team – in spite of the universally accepted belief that football is a purely masculine sport – has given him another opportunity to prove himself at the highest level, is a huge step for the league.

Sam’s signing has added significance with “America’s Team.” Although the Cowboys may be the masters of 8-8 seasons of disappointment, it speaks volumes that a team that is widely recognized as an American brand is willing to accept an openly gay player into its organization.

America has grown more and more liberal over the years. We’re always searching for ways in which sports can add greater, more relevant meaning to our lives other than just the pure win-loss entertainment of fanatical fandom.

Well, this is it. The Cowboys – symbolizing America in their own way – have just made football as relevant as ever in the lives of millions in the LGBT community.

At the end of the day, Sam should be seen as a talented football player who made it to the NFL, rather than just another gay man. He’s living his dream and he’s put in the work to do it. That should command the respect of all people, whether gay or straight.

From a football standpoint, Sam actually has the potential to help a Dallas defense that was absolutely egregious last season. The pass rush was near non-existent during the preseason and that’s one area in which Sam can surely help to strengthen.

To be clear: Sam will not start and may end up never starting in this league. But at this point, I don’t see any reason why he couldn’t be signed to Dallas’ 53-man roster as a second- or third-string defensive lineman or outside linebacker hybrid. The ‘Boys defense is just nauseating, which definitely helps Sam case.

Reports out of Dallas indicate that Sam has already been welcomed by many of his new Cowboy teammates.

Superstar receiver Dez Bryant was quoted as saying: “I’m going to view him as I view any other guy in this locker room. He deserves respect. I don’t judge a book by its cover. He’s a football player, and I’m not going to look at him any different. I expect that from everybody in the locker room. It is what it is. We’re going to go play football.”

Meanwhile Sam has said he’s willing to do whatever it takes to help his new team win as many games as possible. With that kind of attitude – and I know I can speak for Cowboys fans everywhere – I don’t care what his sexual preference is. He’s being paid to play football and his sexuality, while it has indeed been wide open, is not and has not been a problem in the least bit.

So--welcome to America’s team, Michael Sam.

 

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