SBD/February 10, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Execs Believe Michael Sam's Draft Stock Will Fall After Coming Out

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Some execs believe intense media coverage will keep teams away
From a "purely football perspective," former Univ. of Missouri DE Michael Sam's decision to "come out prior to May's NFL draft will make his path to the league daunting," according to sources cited by Thamel & Evans of SI.com. Eight NFL execs "in blunt terms" projected a "significant drop in Sam's draft stock, a publicity circus and an NFL locker room culture not prepared to deal with an openly gay player." While none of the execs "overtly condemned Sam's decision, their opinions illuminated an NFL culture in which an openly gay player -- from the draft room to the locker room -- faces long odds and a lonely path." One NFL exec said, "I don't think football is ready for (an openly gay player) just yet. In the coming decade or two, it's going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it's still a man's-man game." Each of the execs believed that Sam's announcement "will cause him to drop in the draft." Thamel & Evas noted Sam was "projected between the third and seventh rounds prior" to the announcement. The potential "distraction of his presence -- both in the media and the locker room -- could prevent him from being selected." A former NFL GM said, "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?'" (SI.com, 2/9).

MORE NFL EXECS WEIGH IN: In N.Y., Howie Kussoy cites a current NFL GM as saying the announcement "would hurt" Sam's draft stock because the "relentless media coverage could be seen as a distraction that would prevent teams from drafting him, if a player with similar skills is available in the draft" (N.Y. POST, 2/10). An NFL agent said, "You know what’s going to happen. Everyone’s gonna say, 'It’s not gonna affect our evaluation at all.' But what they’re going to say on the record and what they do is gonna be two different things" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/10). An NFL GM said Sam is "not going to get drafted where he thinks he should." The GM added, "The question you will ask yourself, knowing your team, is, ‘How will drafting him affect your locker room?’ And I am sorry to say where we are at this point in time, I think it’s going to affect most locker rooms. A lot of guys will be uncomfortable. Ten years from now, fine. But today, I think being openly gay is a factor in the locker room.” THE MMQB's Peter King asked the GM, "Do you think he’ll be drafted?” The GM replied, "No" (MMQB.SI.com, 2/9). In Missouri, Joe Walljasper writes if Sam "drops completely out of the draft, NFL executives will have shown that they lump homosexuality into the catch-all bin of distractions they don't need" (COLUMBIA DAILY TRIBUNE, 2/10). ESPN's Chris Mortensen said, "One personnel director said that some teams won’t care, but there will be teams that are cautious in their approach and further evaluation of him. Cautious in a manner that the owner certainly wants to be on-board, that they can manage the so-called PR issues that will certainly face him" (ESPN, 2/9).

IS THE NFL READY? In N.Y., Juliet Macur writes under the header, "It's Time For The NFL To Welcome A Gay Player." There is "no better moment than now to plow ahead and topple that wall with a bulldozer." It was "inevitable, but the league now finds itself in a difficult, and potentially awkward, predicament." NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will "bear some responsibility for making sure that Sam is treated respectfully." How Goodell handles the Richie Incognito case "will signal his appetite for changing the league’s culture." There is "no question that Goodell will be watching Sam closely and will be monitoring his treatment in the locker room -- if only because he knows the world will be watching, too" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/10). ESPN's Damien Woody said, "The NFL is not a progressive place when it comes to stuff like this. It will be fascinating to see how the league handles this. The draft just got more interesting." He added that the fact the NFL "issued a statement 'quick, fast and in a hurry' Sunday night is a sure sign the league is on high alert on how its teams handle Sam." Woody: "The league wants to portray itself as trying to be progressive, but this is the same league that has the 'Rooney Rule' that forces front offices and owners to interview minorities for head coaching jobs, so there is a lot of work to be done in the NFL" (N.Y. POST, 2/10). ESPN's Adam Schefter said it is "going to take the right team and the right situation" to draft Sam because there "will be teams scared off by the distraction." Schefter: "The organization that goes out and picks Michael Sam will have to be prepared for everything that comes along [with] it because it’s a much bigger issue and a much bigger story than just a football issue" (ESPN, 2/9).

A TEST FOR SOCIETY: USA TODAY's Jarrett Bell writes, "To NFL culture and society, Sam is a game-changer." Sam is "about to hop on the biggest stage in sports." ESPN analyst and former NFL GM Bill Polian said, "It will be a test because society and media will make it so. Everybody will be asked their opinion, whether anyone like it or not." It is the "social situation that Polian wonders most about." He said, "How do you handle a major media event that transcends the sports media? An NFL PR department is not equipped to handle this type of story" (USA TODAY, 2/10). In Chicago, Dan Wiederer writes, "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" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/10). SI.com's Jon Wertheim: "As intensely analyzed as Sam will be, the NFL and entire Republic of Football will come under great scrutiny" (SI.com, 2/10).

WHEN THE CIRCUS COMES: In St. Louis, Bryan Burwell writes it "was smart" for Sam to "make the announcement before the combine, because it would have been an even bigger storm if someone had confronted him in media interviews there and asked him about his sexual orientation in front of those NFL microphones" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 2/10). In Ft. Worth, Mac Engel writes NFL teams will "be scared because of what a gay man in the locker room will do to 'team chemistry,' but a potentially bigger fear is the media." Sam will be "an international story, and every outlet from Ellen to Time to Parade to South Dakota Gay Quarterly will be in rookie training camp to cover this barrier being broken" (STAR-TELEGRAM.com, 2/10). In Chicago, Rick Telander writes the NFL Combine "will be a zoo." Every camera crew "in the world will be trying to get exclusives from Sam and his teammates." Telander: "I can envision reporters wanting to go with Sam to gay clubs or wanting to know about his personal life beyond the normal boundaries. Does a team want the chaos?" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 2/10). In Dallas, Kevin Sherrington writes, "Without question, the attention Sam's story draws will be far greater than your run-of-the-mill third-round draft choice" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 2/10). ESPN Radio's Mike Greenberg said, "It’s sort of like the Tim Tebow thing. You’re bringing something into your locker room that is going to bring an enormous amount of attention. Is the productivity going to be worth it?" He added, "It isn’t necessarily a homophobic approach. ... They may not want to be inviting … the media circus atmosphere that may come with this" ("Mike & Mike," ESPN Radio, 2/10). 
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