This past Tuesday, the Dallas Cowboys waived defensive end Michael Sam from their practice squad. As you may know Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL team, signed with the Cowboys on Sept. 3 after a final cut from the St. Louis Rams.
Sam took to Twitter on Tuesday to express his gratitude for the opportunity.
“I want to thank the Jones family and the entire Cowboys organization for this opportunity, as well as my friends, family, teammates, and fans for their support. While this is disappointing, I will take the lessons I learned here in Dallas and continue to fight for an opportunity to prove that I can play every Sunday.”
As a businessperson, most deduce that any 7th round draft pick has a negligible opportunity of making a final NFL team roster. But Sam was no ordinary 7th round draft pick. In 2013, Sam recorded 11.5 quarterback sacks and 19 tackles for a loss. He led the SEC in both categories, and tied Missouri’s single-season record for sacks. After the season, Sam was named the SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team all-SEC selection.
Furthermore, looking back, 12 players had 2.5 or more sacks during the NFL preseason. Ten (10) of those players made the 53-man roster for some NFL team. One’s on a practice squad. And the last, Michael Sam, hasn’t found work.
I am not a homophobic person. But as a businessperson, I knew Sam would never play for an NFL team. When Sam became the first publicly gay player to be drafted into the NFL and kissed his boyfriend on national television, his NFL career was over.
And therein lies the problem. The nation as a whole has made significant strides toward LGBT issues, but there are many pockets where personally affirming the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy is the only voice of reason.
Many claim Sam was seen as too small to play defensive end and too slow to play outside linebacker. However, many uttered the NFL pseudonym ‘Not For Long,’ when Sam publicly acknowledged being gay. Doing so placed an enormous microscopic view of physical God-given talent versus simply being gay. Every mistake, every error, forever amplified. Sam was in league where shower (ESPN) habits was considered ‘journalism.’ It’s an enormous amount of pressure to which he unduly suffered.
In June 2012 I came out as having Multiple Sclerosis (MS). With the exception of five people, no one, including my employer, knows I have MS. And very few know my heart slowly expires.
So while not being gay, I do understand Michael Sam’s dilemma. Do I say staying in the closet is wise? Yes and no. Sometimes the need for a job outweighs such deeply personal convictions. Then again, if you want a career rather than a job, you should try to communicate accordingly. However, one certainly doesn’t have to make such proclamations before securing the job.
Being able to open up about personal sensitivities takes courage. Telling the world of a very personal issue prior to draft day takes significant courage. Certainly Sam will argue that not coming out resulted in him not being able to give his employer the full benefit of his insights and perspectives. That may be true. In hindsight though, Sam remains a talented football player, a wonderful man … and unemployed.
There are two lessons. First, it’s hard to work for extremely weak-minded men; and secondly, don’t offer an opinion the organization doesn’t want. Hell, the NFL didn’t give a shit about domestic abuse until Janay Rice was dragged out of an elevator and Josina Anderson still reports for ESPN.
Looking back, University of Missouri Tigers head coach Gary Pinkel said Michael Sam’s decision to come out as gay will not damage his chances of playing in the NFL.
All evidence to the contrary.