Michael Sam, the Bears and the gay-challenged NFL

Missouri defensive end Michael Sam is openly gay and proud. He is preparing to play in the NFL. And so I thought of Lance Briggs.

I thought of last April when NBA veteran Jason Collins told the world he is gay.

I thought of Briggs’ Twitter response when asked if an NFL player would come out.

"How about those Bulls!!!”

I thought of Briggs, too, when I read Sports Illustrated’s story quoting NFL executives and coaches saying, “I don’t think football is ready for (an openly gay player) just yet.”

And, “There are guys in locker rooms that maturity-wise cannot handle it or deal with the thought of that.”

Interestingly, Sam’s Missouri teammates dealt with the thought of it exceptionally well. After Sam told them last summer, they went 12-2 and Sam was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year.

So, a college locker room can handle such reality but the Bears’ defensive QB can’t answer a question about it? Why would he do that?

One possibility: Briggs was offering a meta-message that a player’s sexuality isn’t an issue.

Another: He might be intolerant, the same as other NFL team employees with whom Sports Illustrated talked.

Briggs confused an already unclear situation. It didn’t help when he — or someone with his permission — deleted his tweets by the next morning.

Briggs has his reasons. I tweeted him asking what happened and why. I did not get an answer.

A Bears source said Briggs’ Twitter account is ghostwritten some of the time. A day later, my source told me the team hadn’t been able to reach Briggs for an explanation.

I never heard back from them or Briggs.

Several days later, though, Briggs was staging a football clinic on the South Side on behalf of a clothing line. Media are pitched these kind of opportunities daily. They are not new or rarely make news. They are concocted events whose singular purpose is to lift the reputation of the player and whatever he’s associated himself with.

A flack from the clothing line offered an interview with Briggs. I took the offer. When I showed up, Briggs saw me walking with the flack. He told her he would not be answering questions that day. Not my questions, anyway.

“We’ll have to reschedule,” she said.

Still waiting on a date that works for everybody.

A scout told SI that “this would drop him down,” while a former general manager added Sam would be a “distraction,” perhaps the worst word you can apply to a player’s scouting report in the control-obsessed NFL.

And what of sticking that on someone who has never played an NFL down? Sam has risked a lot of financial security by coming out now. There’s about a million-dollar difference between being taken in the third round and seventh.

When Sam gets to an NFL locker room before next season, here are the kinds of things that will be waiting for him:

At last year’s Super Bowl, 49ers player Chris Culliver uttered anti-gay remarks.

During last year’s scouting combine, a team employee asked a player if he liked girls.

Recently, former punter Chris Kluwe accused Vikings special teams coach Mike Prieffer of
using an anti-gay slur.

Last week, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma told NFL Network he did not want a gay teammate.

The NFL is at odds with itself on Sam. The league is not sure it’s ready for an openly gay man in the locker room but when has it not been ready for an SEC player of the year? It’s a league that tolerates troglodytes but can’t find tolerance for Sam? What happened to just win, baby?

The league issued a statement Sunday night: “We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage. Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”

Yes. Well. The NFL might want to explain what welcome means to its members.

Sam’s brave announcement automatically made him the top story on every draft-day show
with a camera. That includes Goodell’s own network.

Can’t you just see a camera trained on Sam for the first day, even if he’s not a
first-round talent? Certainly.

Can’t you just see a camera trained on Sam for the second day? The third day?

Yes, because he would be a bigger story with everyone watching Goodell’s NFL Network
wondering when a team in Goodell’s league would take the openly gay player.

The longer the SEC defensive player of the year goes undrafted, the worse the NFL
looks.

Roger Goodell, your league is on the clock.

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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