SBD/May 12, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Sam's Selection By Rams Seen As One With Immeasurable Implications For NFL, Society

Sam will get a fair chance from his Rams coaching staff
Rams GM Les Snead and coach Jeff Fisher "began considering" the possibility of drafting openly gay DE Michael Sam late Friday and early Saturday, and by the time they were "supposed to pick in the seventh round, Sam stood above most players remaining on their draft board," according to Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com. Two picks before the Rams "came on the clock," Fisher and Snead had "private conversations" with Rams Exec VP & COO Kevin Demoff and Owner Stan Kroenke about choosing Sam. Kroenke, who resides in Columbia, Mo., and has ties to Sam's alma mater, Mizzou, "offered his blessing" (ESPN.com, 5/10). USA TODAY's Jarrett Bell writes Fisher "is probably as plugged in as any NFL decision-maker to the big-picture pulse on league issues." Still, when it comes to Sam, it is "incredible that he almost didn't get drafted" (USA TODAY, 5/12). In N.Y., Mike Lupica wrote drafting Sam "was not a noble decision by the Rams," but rather a "football decision." This "was still a good thing at the NFL draft on Saturday, for Michael Sam and for his sport and maybe for the country" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/11). In St. Louis, Bernie Miklasz wrote the drafting of Sam was about Rams' execs "having the courage to do what's right." The Rams "saved the NFL from profound embarrassment." They "clearly recognized that Sam shouldn’t be excluded just because his presence on the Rams’ roster would make OTHERS uncomfortable." It "took a strong leader to draft Sam; it may take an even stronger leader to waive him." But Sam "will get a fair chance from this coaching staff" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 5/11). Sam "stopped short of directly saying his stock dropped" after he came out. But Sam said, "From last season alone, I should've been in the first three rounds. SEC Defensive Player of the Year, All-American." Sam: "Who knows? Only the people who sit in the war room know" (AP, 5/10).

SAVING FACE: ESPN.com's Jeffri Chadiha wrote Sam's selection "saved commissioner Roger Goodell from the awkward task of having to answer questions about whether the league is filled with homophobia." The Rams are the "best possible" team in terms of giving Sam a chance to make the squad. They "have the perfect mix of variables that could help Sam find an instant comfort zone" (ESPN.com, 5/10). In Newark, A.J. Perez wrote the Rams "helped the league avoid a public relations fallout that would have followed" had Sam not been drafted (NJ.com, 5/11). SI.com's Don Banks wrote Sam "was going to get his chance to make the NFL one way or the other." If it "didn't come via the draft, it would have come as one of the hundreds of undrafted collegiate free agents signed every year" (SI.com, 5/10). In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch noted no reigning SEC Defensive Player of the year had ever "been taken lower than the fourth round" before Sam, whose sexuality "isn’t thought to have played a major role -- if it played a role at all" -- in his fall (N.Y. POST, 5/11). In DC, Kent Babb wrote after Sam came out in February, and "in particular after the combine, many in and around the league began criticizing his game -- much of the scrutiny coming anonymously." But the Rams seem like a "sensible destination for Sam" (WASHINGTON POST, 5/11).  In K.C., Tod Palmer noted Sam "was projected as high as a third-round pick by some in early NFL Draft analysis, but those same analysts started sliding Sam farther down the draft board after he came out publicly in February" (K.C. STAR, 5/11).

WHAT IT MEANS: In N.Y., Gary Myers wrote the Rams "saved the league from being criticized -- fairly or not -- as homophobic." It "would have been uncomfortable for the NFL if Sam wasn’t picked" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/11). Also in N.Y., William Rhoden wrote Sam's late selection "is precisely why the NFL doesn't get a parade: Sam should have been taken three rounds earlier" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/11). You Can Play Project Exec Dir Wade Davis wrote on op-ed for the N.Y. DAILY NEWS stating what the NFL "did right was to treat Sam like any other athlete." Rather than "try to control the situation, the league let it play out." There "were probably one or two teams that stayed away from him out of fear of the unknown" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/12). In N.Y., Ken Belson wrote Sam's draft status was "seen as a barometer of whether the NFL was ready to accept an openly gay player." His selection "should help alleviate pressure on the NFL." Diversity & Ethics in Sports Founder Richard Lapchick: "Had Sam not been picked in the draft, it would have sent a signal that the NFL wasn’t going to be as welcoming" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/11).The AP's Ralph Russo wrote the impact of Sam's selection "goes far beyond football." At a time when gay marriage "is gaining acceptance among Americans, Sam's entry into the NFL is a huge step toward the integration of gay men" into pro sports (AP, 5/11). 

FROM THE OWNERS BOX: Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones said of Sam: "I was happy to see him drafted because it just shouldn’t be an issue. ... I thought there’d be less of an issue made if he were drafted [than] if he wasn’t drafted because we’re all aware of the reality that it was the focal point here of what he is relative to that part of the society issue" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 5/11). Nuggets and Avalanche President Josh Kroenke, whose father owns the Rams, said, "At the end of the day, it's all going to come down to who can play and who can't play, and it doesn't matter what falls in between that. ... It's a tribute to the direction of society in general, with Michael Sam being confident enough to come out, Jason Collins being confident to come out." In Denver, Benjamin Hochman wrote, "Tolerance of sexual orientation. Now it's football's turn. Saturday was a step" (DENVER POST, 5/11).

Sam celebrates with his boyfriend, Vito Cammisano,
after being selected by the Rams

IMAGES ON THE SCREEN: In California, Shad Powers wrote the kiss that ESPN aired between Sam and his boyfriend "served as a test for a lot of people as they came face to face -- or lip to lip -- with just how comfortable and accepting they really are." The "clear answer on Twitter and across Internet message boards, is that the average American sports fan is not comfortable and not fully accepting" (Palm Springs DESERT SUN, 5/11). In N.Y., Chan, Schapiro & McShane noted wrote the "unscripted embrace sent social media abuzz and capped a historic night for the NFL" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/11). In New Jersey, Tara Sullivan writes for every "celebratory draft embrace between athletes and their loved ones, this was the first we watched between two gay men" (Bergen RECORD, 5/12). In Orlando, David Whitley writes if Sam "never plays a down of pro football, he will still go down as one of the most important athletes in history" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 5/12). In Oakland, Marcus Thompson II wrote the pick "was history" and "will be etched in the psyche of America because, in this moment, we all felt" for Sam. It also will be etched into the psyche because modern media "will play it until the machine is smoking" (OAKLAND TRIBUNE, 5/11). In San Jose, Mark Purdy wrote Sam's selection marked the NFL's "moment of gay enlightenment." TV "captured the moment," then social media "relayed it." The moment "stood out ... because it seemed so organic and unaffected" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 5/11).

CANDID CAMERA: In K.C., Vahe Gregorian wrote with Sam embracing his boyfriend on ESPN, "you could view not only Sam’s reaction but also a snapshot that will be remembered as a pivotal milestone in an emerging movement against institutional bigotry." The Rams "began to forever change the parameters of inclusion in the NFL, which has had gay players before but never one who could publicly live who he was while he was playing" (K.C. STAR, 5/11). The Newark STAR-LEDGER's Perez noted ESPN had a "camera at gay sports bar in West Hollywood" for the third day of the draft, with the net's Shelley Smith reporting on location (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 5/11). In Philadelphia, Bob Brookover writes he "cringed a little" when he saw Sam kissing and "shoving cake in his boyfriend's face" after the selection. Brookover: "Those are my issues, not his." Brookover believes Sam "should not be discriminated against in any way." Brookover wrote under the header, "Sam Had To Wait Way Too Long To Be Drafted" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 5/12).

MOVING FORWARD: On Long Island, Bob Glauber wrote Sam's selection "proved to be one of the most meaningful moments in league history." The question now is whether Sam "will be subjected to the kind of unfortunate treatment that comes when others fail to accept his sexual orientation." Will there "be taunts in the locker room, either outwardly or in the shadows?" (NEWSDAY, 5/11). In Las Vegas, Norm Clarke noted Sam on Saturday "celebrated the barrier-breaking day by partying with supporters" at a local nightclub. He "arrived at Tao with his boyfriend, Vito Cammisano, and a large group of friends" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 5/12).

TWITTER REAX: As expected, reaction to Sam's selection has continued to pour in on social media. Former Ole Miss men's basketball player Marshall Henderson this morning tweeted, "Boycotting sportscenter til this michael sam nasty ass shit is off .... My brothers are 7 and 11 and saw that!!! #SICKENING." Ole Miss AD Ross Bjork later responded, "I'm extremely disappointed & we do not condone the statements made by our former bball player. We believe in respect & dignity for all......" Former Univ. of Texas QB Case McCoy: "ESPN... You serious right now?" Rams DE Robert Quinn: "Welcome to the squad @MikeSamFootball #D-LineShowtime."
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