Here’s your surface-level scouting report on Michael Sam: He’s a defensive end from Missouri. Stands 6 feet, 1 inch tall and weighs 260 pounds. He led the SEC in sacks this past season with 11.5, won the conference’s defensive player of the year award and helped Missouri reach the conference title game.
He’s fast and instinctive and can move around but may leave some teams at the NFL wondering whether he’s better suited on the defensive line or as an outside linebacker.
Oh, and in case you missed it, Sam made it public Sunday that he is gay.
- VIDEO: Video: Michael Sam opens up about sexuality
VOTE: Would you be OK with Bears drafting Sam?
- STORY: Top NFL prospect Sam says he's gay
- NFL front offices react to Michael Sam news
Openly so. And he’s preparing for the blitz of support and criticism and non-stop coverage that is already coming his way. So perhaps it’s time to tack on “courageous” and “determined” to the Sam scouting report as he continues along his path toward the NFL.
The NFL combine is next week in Indianapolis. Sam is invited and is due to arrive on Feb. 21. He will take center stage for the media horde a day later and go through his on-field combine testing on Feb. 24. And he’ll interview with NFL teams all throughout his combine visit.
Where does the story go from here?
- Will Sam’s sexual preference impact his draft status?
- Is the NFL capable of gracefully handling the new dynamics that an openly gay player will present?
- Will a locker room at the next level embrace Sam the same way his team at Missouri did?
- Will NFL front offices shy away from drafting or signing Sam due to anxiety over how the inevitable media circus will impact the team?
The league itself issued a statement Sunday: “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.”
A lot is ahead and at stake for both Sam and the league and already the many narratives that will be part of this story have mushroomed up on the opening day of coverage.
Sports Illustrated, for example, took the pulse of eight NFL executives and coaches and the results were telling.
As one former general manager revealed to SI, the intense buzz surrounding Sam’s story may give some teams pause in selecting him, particularly from a pool of prospects with similar talents but much quieter storylines.
Said the former GM: “That will break a tie against that player. Every time. Unless he's Superman. Why? Not that they're against gay people. It's more that some players are going to look at you upside down. Every Tom, Dick and Harry in the media is going to show up, from Good Housekeeping to the Today show. A general manager is going to ask, 'Why are we going to do that to ourselves?'"
Sam isn’t considered a top prospect, unlikely to be taken in the first two rounds. So teams will face some interesting debates when assessing where to stack him on their big boards.