Posted by Mike Florio on February 9, 2014, 8:49 PM EST
In 10 days, the NFL will descend on Indianapolis for the Scouting Combine, a year after multiple incoming players reportedly were asked about their sexuality.
For one of the players attending this year’s Combine, the answer has been provided without the question being asked.
Missouri defensive end Michael Sam has come out as gay, capping a football season that began with Sam sharing his sexual orientation with his teammates.
“I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” Sam told the New York Times. “I just want to own my truth.”
The SEC co-defensive player of the year struggled at the Senior Bowl with a move from defensive end to linebacker. He’s still regarded as a third-round prospect.
“I’m not naive,” Sam said. “I know this is a huge deal and I know how important this is. But my role as of right now is to train for the Combine and play in the NFL.”
It will be difficult for Sam to focus on that role, at least in the short term. Instantly, his name will take on a Manzeillian magnitude at the Scouting Combine, with Sam’s press conference destined to be as busy as Manti Te’o’s session in 2013.
The media then will shift its focus to whether Sam’s declaration will help him or hurt him. Ideally, it will have no impact. But we’re not naive, either. Some coaches, General Managers, and/or owners will be inclined to shy away from being the first locker room to welcome openly gay player, even if none would ever admit it.
For that reason, Sam took a courageous path. (Outsports.com tells the story of how Sam made the decision to come out now.) He could have kept it hidden until after he was drafted. Instead, he opted (as he has said) to own his truth. And now whoever drafts him will be selecting — and accepting — Sam for who he is.
At a time when NFL teams seem to be obsessed with avoiding distractions, here’s hoping that someone will see this as an opportunity to help get sports to the point where having an openly gay player isn’t regarded as a distraction. Ideally, here’s hoping that Sam ultimately is picked because he can help a team win games.