The front of Wednesday’s Washington Post sports section worries “If Michael Sam goes undrafted, NFL might have a public-relations problem on its hands.” Sam announcing his homosexuality apparently makes it mandatory that he be drafted this week. That's a little insincere. The media are promising they'll give the NFL a PR problem is Sam goes undrafted.
For example, Post reporter Kent Babb equated Sam going undrafted with the controversy over lineman Jonathan Martin of the Miami Dolphins being racially bullied and harassed:
The league, which in recent years has been promoting its growth and evolution, took a direct hit to its social agenda in February when an investigation into the Miami Dolphins’ workplace culture revealed harassment, slurs and bullying. It would take another if Sam, who led the Southeastern Conference in sacks and was its co-defensive player of the year, isn’t selected in the draft’s seven rounds.
Put simply: The NFL would avoid a major public-relations headache if, at any point this weekend, a team uses a draft pick — seen as perhaps the league’s most valuable currency — on Sam, who Davis said wasn’t planning to stay in New York for the draft and would instead watch the selection show among friends and family in his native Texas. If he goes undrafted or isn’t even signed as a free agent, the NFL’s message of progress and preparedness for a gay player becomes a more difficult sell.
Then, in paragraph 11, comes the less political news. Sam wanted to be judged as a football player, and at the NFL’s draft combine, he did poorly:
Sam’s draft stock has been in freefall, it bears mentioning, since a poor showing at the combine, where his vertical leap and 40-yard dash time — he was clocked officially at 4.91 seconds and posted two false starts — raised more scrutiny about how he and his 6-foot-2, 261-pound frame fit in the NFL. And, in fairness, Sam did say shortly after his announcement that he wanted to be judged only on his football ability.
“I just wish you guys will see me as Michael Sam the football player instead of Michael Sam the gay football player,” he said during a combine news conference that was perhaps his finest performance during the event.
Bill Polian, the former longtime NFL executive, said this week during a conference call with reporters that, looking only at his skills, he would project Sam as a third-day draft choice because his size is an ideal fit for neither defensive end nor outside linebacker, and because Sam is largely seen as a one-note player.
“Most teams will view his athletic numbers as marginal, even as a special teams contributor, even despite the fact that he’s a tough, hard-nosed football player,” said Polian, now an ESPN analyst. “. . . What does that translate to: fifth, sixth, seventh round? That’s what it translates to. I think he’ll be drafted, and I think he’s got a better than even chance to make a team.”
That’s certainly true, because once you draft him, how do you cut him in the preseason? Would the Washington Post and their media brethren tolerate it? Babb concluded: “If Sam is not on an active roster when the season begins in early September, there’s likely to be much more discussion about whether America itself is more accepting of gays than its sports teams.” It's like a political correctness quota.
Babb also suggested the combine results don't matter on his Twitter account:
@lawdogg1983 If he isn't drafted, no matter his combine & size, all people will say is that it's because he's gay. The NFL doesn't need that— Kent Babb (@kentbabb) May 7, 2014
UPDATE: Babb's article became the cover story for Thursday's edition of the Post's free commuter tabloid Express. The headline was "A Draft Dilemma: Can the NFL afford to have Michael Sam, its first openly gay prospect, go undrafted?"