A Bad Day For Two Words That Start With The Letter "D"
Michael Sam is big news.
He already was, what with his SEC chops and pro football upside. Now that he came out of the proverbial closet, he's viral. Every news and sports outlet hashed the Sam story over and over Monday, praising his courage and wondering how he'll fit in an NFL locker room.
Another shot fired in the battle against discrimination, and Sam is scoring a direct hit.
Some fared better than other in the court of public opinion. Many were proud to attach their names and faces to their feelings. Others didn't, mostly those who didn't think much of Sam's decision to go public, or thought that his "reveal" was going to hurt his draft prospects. More than a few used the word "distraction" to describe Sam.
What qualifies as "a distraction" in a modern sports locker room in the first place? Cameras are already there--does it matter if there are a few more? Some speak of the media circus Sam now will create wherever he goes but how long before that plays itself out? Isn't virtually anything a possible distraction, from a player's arrest to bickering teammates to winning/losing streaks? Tragedy can take the legs out from under a squad but it also gets credit on occasion for uniting a locker room. Is "distraction" used as an excuse after the fact to explain a team's loss? If so, that's lame.
Packers Coach Mike McCarthy had the perfect response when asked about Sam. telling the Green Bay Press Gazette, "Any player who can come here and be a good teammate and follow the rules of our program, which is one be respectful and produce on the field, we have room for that guy."
McCarthy echoes what we're told about Vince Lombardi, famous for making sure Green Bay was a welcoming place for players of all color. It's an attitude he took with him as he coached for the last time in Washington, a team that wide receiver Charley Taylor says had a rep as a haven for gay players, none of whom publicly came out. One of them was tight end Jerry Smith who is part of the team's ring of honor and the subject of an installment of NFL Network's "A Football Life". Lombardi had a gay brother and reportedly demanded locker room tolerance of homosexuals, to the point where he told his assistants to help a gay player make the roster despite an arrest for having public sex with another man. If anyone made an issue of the player's masculinity, Lombardi warned, the assistant would be gone "before his ass hit the ground."
The debate is now enjoined, with Sam's capabilities as an NFL defensive player being discussed in the same breath with his sexuality. Sam chose to go public, and he's putting pro football on notice. He'll be all the rage at the upcoming combine, running 40's and doing agility drills. Let him be judged on his athletic skill set. Let GM's decide if he's physically big enough to handle the rigors of the position. And, let them put their names next to their feelings if they deem his homosexuality a deal-breaker with their teams. Too many of these cowards are getting passes in the media these days as Sam's future is debated.
Don't judge or dismiss him because he's "a distraction." That almost sounds like code, like an easy excuse. It would be a shame if Sam didn't get a shot based on his skill but instead gets dismissed as part of a media circus. And shame on those who choose to stick with that mindset.