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Looking Back on Michael Sam Pick in 2014 NFL Draft

The story of the St. Louis Rams’ drafting of Michael Sam made huge headlines following the 2014 NFL draft. Swarms of television cameras and reporters descended upon St. Louis for a press conference bigger than any the Rams have seen since their last Superbowl trip. Major media outlets have been following Sam’s journey to the NFL since February, when he revealed in an interview that he was a gay football player. We all know his sexual orientation makes this a unique and newsworthy story; most people outside of the SEC didn’t know of Michael Sam before February. Despite the obvious, ESPN (amongst others) has been reporting the Sam story with the disclaimer that the coverage is because of “his football skills.”

There should be no shying away from the significance. Excuses that refer to the Michael Sam coverage as only being about football ruin the journalistic integrity of the outlet. Why else would you be dedicating so much airtime to a seventh round draft pick (no. 249 overall)? Why would the press be filling a conference room for a chance to field questions for the last man a team has drafted? Can anyone name the player drafted before Sam?

Over the last year, there have been two significant outings in North American sports. Firstly, Robbie Rogers announced his sexual orientation before returning to soccer and playing for the LA Galaxy. The crowd applauded, the media covered it and we moved onto soccer. It happened in a similar fashion for the NBA when Jason Collins announced his preference. The impact was slightly more significant because he played for one of the “major four” leagues in North America. Both instances had their fair share of the spotlight leading up to the event, but did not incite frenzy. Both Rogers and Collins were established role players returning from a semi-retirement. They had proven themselves in the league before they opened up.

Michael Sam’s case is different because a) it’s the NFL, the largest sports organization in the world and b) he has yet to prove himself. Why that second part is important is because it leaves so much unknown to us as spectators. Now that there is a gay player on the draft list, what will happen? Who will choose him? Will he get slighted because of his lifestyle? Will he be drafted higher because of it? Will he go undrafted? The NFL draft has become a major event all on its own. While Rogers and Collins were front office acquisitions by the organizations signing them, Michael Sam’s drafting was a public spectacle that the entire world could see. People were genuinely intrigued on how the story would pan out. But it certainly wasn’t just because of his football skills.

The moment any player decides to break routine before a draft, we tend to keep a watchful eye on their path. Two other players were in similar situations this year for wildly different reasons. Johnny Manziel has been his own worst enemy since winning the Heisman his freshman year at Texas A&M. With his cocky attitude and taunt-filled mouth, he at times seemed a detriment to his team. That bravado created a love/hate relationship with the casual football viewer and raised questions in the pro ranks. When draft day came, those who wanted him to succeed were watching. And so were all those rooting for him to fail. Secondly, AJ McCarron made the curious decision to enter into a television contract with his well-publicized girlfriend, Katherine Webb. The two agreed to have a set of cameras follow them around this summer on the way to his first season in the NFL. Those outside of the McCarron household found this very curious and wondered how it would impact his draft status. Despite winning two national championships at the helm of Alabama, he went in the 5th round. In both of these cases, out-of-the-norm situations may have impacted the players’ statuses or in the very least, our attention to them.

Michael Sam’s situation is certainly out of the norm, in that it is unprecedented. Our interest in the story should not be dismissed. Whatever reason we as an audience have for watching this story unfold, it is NOT because of Sam’s football skills. Our interest lies in the fact that he is indeed gay and we are witnessing a first. This is the first time a team will have to make decisions about a gay player that are not easy. Sam is not an elite player, so he is subjected to cuts. Will the Rams be strong enough to set him loose if he is not up to snuff? Will they keep him on the roster to sell more jerseys? How will the Rams handle the scrutiny that will come from any of their decisions? We are all waiting to see.

Whether we admit it or not, we are following the Michael Sam story because he is gay. It is newsworthy; therefore it should be said as such. Dismissing the real reasons for all the media coverage and making it about football skills is a cop out. ESPN and other outlets (like the ones you can find on Directory World) are trying to be PC, because they are afraid that those who do not agree with Sam’s lifestyle will take issue. The thing they don’t realize is that doing so cuts their journalistic integrity to appease a minority. One day (and it may be one day very soon), a player will enter the draft as open as Michael Sam and it will be a footnote. But first we need this current story to unfold openly and truthfully before we ever get there.

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