With the 249th pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the St. Louis Rams selected defensive end Michael Sam of the University of Missouri. During his senior season, Sam earned SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors. With the exception of those poor saps who say “football” when they mean “soccer,” all football fans know that the best defensive player in the SEC is also one of the best defensive players in college football.
Despite the accolades, Sam’s draft day was hardly the stuff of ESPN green room live shots. Long after the top picks had posed with their new teams’ jerseys, and the New York Jets disappointed their beleaguered fans for yet another year, Sam was still waiting.
And then, the call came in. Sam was a Ram. While he wasn’t making his professional debut at Radio City Music Hall with a congratulatory handshake from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, he was making his debut on television. In fact, despite his late entry to the league’s freshman class, the moment he took the call was broadcast and rebroadcast across the media and Internet. In fact, his entire draft day and beyond was set to be the subject of a reality TV program produced by Oprah Winfrey until it was dropped a week later, ostensibly after some teammates voiced concern it would be a distraction. Also of note was the phone call Sam took later. While he’s no Oprah, President Barack Obama is still a pretty solid “get” in the congratulatory phone call department.
In all fairness, getting drafted by an NFL team is no small accomplishment. There are 125 football teams in Division 1-FBS football. With the exception of teams which allow Lane Kiffin near the bench, each of them carries a roster comprising approximately 85 scholarship players. With only 32 teams in the NFL, most of the players at even the top level of college football will not only not enjoy the limelight on their big day, they won’t have a big day.
In all, 248 players were selected ahead of Sam. But Oprah won’t be calling them. And West Point graduate and U.S. Army Ranger Alejandro Villaneuva, who was not only not taken ahead of Sam in the draft but missed five years of football following his graduation from West Point in order to serve multiple combat tours in Afghanistan, needn’t wait by the phone for a Presidential ring. And that fact begs an obvious question: what makes Michael Sam so unusual?
While he certainly played some outstanding college ball, NFL general managers, all of whom have to win to keep their jobs, passed him over repeatedly. In a league where winning is literally the only thing which matters, Sam’s poor showing at the NFL combine hardly pushed him up draft day ladder. Did Michael Sam earn a Bronze Star for valor under fire, an honor bestowed upon the aforementioned Villanueva? Did Michael Sam even donate his signing bonus to one of the tax-exempt left-wing hate groups which overtly support liberal causes without somehow piquing the interest of the IRS?
No, Michael Sam was the star of draft day – well, two days AFTER draft day – because he’s gay. Oprah, Obama and pretty much every sportswriter from here to the Show Me State all horned in on Sam’s big moment because of something Oprah, Obama and even I consider as biologically significant as brown eyes or left-handedness. In a world in which people like Oprah and Obama whine about Americans’ tendency to over-analyze and over-dramatize the things which make us different, the same people couldn’t wait to tell us that Michael Sam is important because he’s different. Well, pardon me for saying so, but if Michael Sam wants to earn my attention, he should focus less on his burgeoning celebrity and more on his subpar strength, speed and pass rushing ability.
Michael Sam’s sexual preference isn’t particularly meaningful to me. The NFL is littered with all sorts of people who would probably be doing serious prison time were it not for the fact that they can cover 40 yards in 4.2 seconds. But Sam can’t cover 40 yards that quickly. He also can’t lift all that much weight, and – according to combine numbers – he sports the vertical leap of an overweight elephant. Michael Sam could come out in favor of inter-species relationships, and it still wouldn’t make him a gridiron star. If Sam doesn’t start working it out on the field, he’s not going to be a star at all.