Here’s the sad part of this story. Michael Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL team, was one of the final cuts Saturday by the St. Louis Rams.
As a 7th round pick, the odds that he’d survive training camp weren’t great to begin with—especially considering the Rams are absolutely stacked on the defensive line. They’ve got two Pro Bowl-caliber defensive ends in Robert Quinn and Chris Long, and veterans Kendall Langford, Michael Brockers, William Hayes, Alex Carrington, Eugene Sims, and rookie first round draft pick Aaron Donald were absolute locks to make the team.
Sam got the axe because, even though they’re running a 4-3 defense, with the emergence of undrafted rookie free agent defensive end Ethan Westbrooks, there was little chance they’d carry ten defensive linemen out of 53 total roster spots. Additionally, Westbrooks proved to be a more versatile player—one capable of contributing on special teams and showing more speed and athleticism than Sam did.
Here’s where the story gets better.
Michael Sam proved that he could contribute to an NFL team. He had an impressive preseason, racking up 11 tackles and three sacks in total, including a team-leading six takedowns in the final game versus the Dolphins on Thursday. For those that might have been worried that Sam’s sexuality would be a factor in St. Louis’s decision, that wasn’t the case. Sam was judged on his performance on the field and in practice alone.
That’s not a particularly pleasant thought for Michael Sam, but it’s infinitely preferable to the idea that the Rams ditched him because he’s gay or because he was destroying “team chemistry,” was a “distraction,” or any sports-corporate non-speak that the risk-averse NFL trots out for anything and everything that might interfere with their profit-generating colossus.
Despite Herm Edwards’s hand-wringing, the Rams did not become the focus of a media feeding frenzy. There was one unfortunate ESPN piece that revived the old homophobic bugaboo about showering with gay men, but as head coach Jeff Fisher said at a press conference after the news broke, “There’s no challenge with respect to Mike Sam. He’s not about drawing attention to himself. He kept his head down and worked and you can’t ask anything more out of any player for that matter.”
The team also added through their official twitter account:
As to where he might sign, he’ll go through the 24-hour waiver period, and if he goes unclaimed, would then be free to sign with any other team, or possibly end up back on the Rams’s practice squad. According to this ESPN report, they’re seriously considering doing just that.
If he does leave St. Louis, a pass rush-needy team like the Dallas Cowboys might be tempted to add him. The Washington Post spoke to an unnamed NFL front office executive about his chances: “I do think there’s a chance of that. He played well enough [during the preseason] for a team with a need on the defensive line to consider that. He would have to be clearly better than the guy you already have as your last defensive lineman on your roster, and he’d have more to learn about your system than that guy. So that’s tough. But you never know.”
The Post also listed Jacksonville, Minnesota, Tampa, New England, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Oakland, Carolina and the New York Giants as potential landing spots
All in all, the best-case scenario was realized. Sam was treated (and will continue to be treated) like every other NFL hopeful, and that’s what happened here.
This is where the story gets ugly.
If anyone that’s reading this is tempted to start bellowing, “If he’s like everyone else, then why is this even a story? This just shows that Dungy was right!”
Yes, you are partially right. There are hundreds of highly-skilled dudes that got the exact same grim, dreaded tap on the shoulder this weekend that Sam did from “The Turk”—the low-level employee that has to locate a player somewhere within the team’s complex and tell him that the coach needs to see him in his office and he should probably bring his playbook with him. If you’ve ever watched HBO’s Hard Knocks, you know those scenes are serious tearjerkers, but they aren’t particularly newsworthy.
Here’s the difference. Search Twitter or Facebook for Michael Sam + [your favorite anti-gay slur] and see what kind of vile, toxic sludge you’re able to dredge up. Actually, don’t. It’s not worth giving these bigots any more oxygen than they deserve. Just take my word for it that it was, and probably still is, awful. Unlike, say, a random cornerback from Boise State, moments after the Rams announced they were cutting Sam, there was a near-celebratory outpouring of weirdly giddy hate, using the relative anonymity of social media as a modern-day Klansman’s e-frock.
This is a story because, sad to say, there are still, if you’re an optimist, a surprising number of people that thought this was the perfect opportunity to vent their bile-clogged spleens. More than a few knuckle-draggers even thought it was a swell idea to tweet Sam directly to mock him and fling insults because... I have no idea, really. But I do know that it’s deeply depressing.
So if you’re wondering why some might have been rooting for St. Louis to keep Sam—more so than any other hard-working, good kid fighting to realize a lifelong dream—this is why: because it would expose all of these morons for the homophobic, wrongheaded trash bags that they are.
And just so we don’t end on that bleak note, here’s Sam’s official statement. This, if nothing else, will make you feel a tad better:
“I want to thank the entire Rams organization and the city of St. Louis for giving me this tremendous opportunity and allowing me to show I can play at this level. I look forward to continuing to build on the progress I made here toward a long and successful career. The most worthwhile things in life rarely come easy, this is a lesson I've always known. The journey continues.”