Six hours after I published the below piece on Michael Sam, the Dallas Cowboys announced that they would in fact sign the co-SEC defensive player of the year to their practice squad. This was a relief to everyone who believed that Michael Sam—on merit—had earned a place in the National Football League with his stellar pre-season performance for the St. Louis Rams.
It was also a relief given what I wrote in the below article: that the hobgoblins of homophobia seemed to be preventing Sam from getting an opportunity. Under the code word of “distraction”—the distraction being his sexuality—Sam was being denied a place on an NFL roster. Given the endless actual “distractions” belched into the culture from the pro football—from brain damage to racist mascots to domestic violence—one didn’t know whether the "distraction" fears of general managers was an outrage or a farce.
While it is a relief that Sam will get his chance, it is also a thrill that he is landing with the Dallas Cowboys for a series of reasons. Unlike the St. Louis Rams, the Cowboys are decimated on defense so Sam will actually get something that would have been difficult to find in St. Louis: the opportunity to play. In addition, Dallas’ defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is respected as someone who knows how to get the most out of players with Sam’s ability to get downfield and pressure the quarterback. Then there is the city of Dallas itself. Contrary to stereotypes people may have about Texas, Dallas is home to a significant community of LGBT individuals and allies. The city’s elected Sheriff is a gay Latina, Lupe Valdez. Sam could play anywhere, but it is good to know that his new city would be place where he could find support. That gets to the last reason why Dallas is such a quality landing spot for Sam: he is from Texas. Michael Sam has come home. In a sport practically defined by bad news this offseason, Michael Sam actually gives many people a sense of hope. If the people in Roger Goodell’s office did not realize this before, they certainly do now.
* * *
The tweet sent by one of my favorite football writers, Mike Freeman speaks volumes: “GM tells me: ‘Teams want to sign Michael Sam but fear the media attention.’ To me, that’s cowardice. But that’s just me.” It is not just you, Mike. This is cowardice writ large: risk-averse corporate executives unwilling to improve their team because they fear that the “distraction” of openly gay linebacker Michael Sam is not worth the effort.
For those unaware of the latest news, Michael Sam was among the last cuts of the St. Louis Rams. Despite a stellar preseason where he was among the team leaders in sacks, tackles and snaps. Sam found himself on the outside when the final roster was announced. This in and of itself was not surprising. In a league where pass-rushers are a premium, St. Louis has perhaps the deepest crew of quarterback sackers and run stoppers in the NFL. This made their original drafting of Sam somewhat curious, and it was always unclear how he would in fact make the team. Given Sam’s terrific preseason, though, football scribes took to Twitter and assured the public that Sam would be signed by another team, or at the very least, assigned to the Rams ten-person practice squad. Implicit in these tweets, whether the writers intended this or not, is the NFL’s most treasured public relations point: this is a league that cares about winning above all else, and Michael Sam, who more than proved himself this preseason, would find himself a home.