Friday, August 8, 2014

Michael Sam's Rocky Road With The Rams






What's really going on in the St. Louis Rams' locker room re: rookie Michael Sam, the University of Missouri defensive end and 7th round draftee, who's the first openly gay player in the NFL?

The league would like you to believe that everything is warm and fuzzy and friendly in that locker room and that the players are getting along well with Sam.

Hah!

Scratch the surface and, according to two sources close to two Rams, many players are uncomfortable around Sam, are sniping about him privately, liberally using the f-word, and hoping he doesn't make the team. First of all, there are the homophobes, the hard-core anti-gays who flat out don't like being in the same locker room with gays. Guys like this will always be around and will make life miserable for guys like Sam. As you can imagine, the homophobes really hated seeing Sam kiss his boyfriend on TV and are appalled at his affinity for public affection. This anti-gay bunch, report the sources, is generating an undercurrent of tension in the locker room. They're not going to broadcast it, for fear of angering league officials, but many Rams wish Sam would go away..

Some of Sam's competitors--the other late-round draftees and marginal players--also aren't crazy about him. These are the guys desperate to make the team, desperate for a job. But all they have going for them is their skills. Sam, however, has more than that. A player drafted near the end of the final round should be hanging by a thread. But Sam isn't the typical seventh-rounder. And he's not hanging by a thread. He's a media darling, the face of the NFL gays. He's in a preferred position, but not because of his playing skills. When it's time for roster cuts, Sam will definitely have an edge. There's no denying that. If he was up against a player of equal skills for one roster spot, who do you think would get the spot?  To his competitors, he's playing the "gay" card and winning the pot. They think he has an unfair edge and resent him for that. That situation is creating a lot of locker-room tension.

Let's face it. The NFL doesn't want Sam to fail. It's bad public relations. If the league is perceived as a place that's not gay-friendly, that will be, among the general population, a black mark. Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL bigwigs don't want that to happen--and they'll make sure it doesn't. Sam will make the Rams or some other team. Goodell will make sure of that.

Of course, the commissioner says he stays out of such decisions. Don't believe that for a second. Remember that Sam, the SEC defensive player of  the year, wasn't even drafted. One problem is that this award is tainted. If you look closely, it was based on him running wild against bad teams. For the most part, the good SEC teams held him in check. He wasn't even the best DE on his own team--Kony Ealy was. Sam's big drawback is that he's a "tweener," too slow to be a demon pass-rusher and not fast enough for linebacker. He's not really a potential starter and teams didn't want to put up with all the media distractions for a so-so talent. That's why he fell to the bottom of the draft.

But do you really think Goodell was going to let Sam, perceived by most as a courageous good guy, go undrafted? That wouldn't have looked good for the NFL's image. The word around the league is that the commissioner's reps were working the phones in the seventh and final round to make sure Sam was drafted. Once again, Goodell's people will deny they had any part in that. But these are the same people who'll make sure that Sam is on some team when the season starts.

By the way, according to several league sources, there's another NFL group--the league's closeted gays-- that is uneasy and unhappy about all the media attention Sam is getting. These guys--some estimates say there are twenty or thirty of them--like being under the radar and prefer keeping their private lives private. Because of Sam, though, there's a spotlight on the NFL's gays now and the glare just might spread to these closeted gays. More tension.

Of course, there's a way Sam can make the tension go away and wipe out notions he's getting special assistance to stay in the league. The solution is for him to morph into a good, solid, dependable, humble NFL player. Hell, that way he might even win over a boneheaded homophobe or two.