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updated: 2/11/2014 10:08 PM

Football reality setting in for Michael Sam

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  • Michael Sam will have to find a team with a strong locker room filled with leaders and a coach willing to overcome whatever distraction might be caused by having the first openly gay NFL player on his roster.

      Michael Sam will have to find a team with a strong locker room filled with leaders and a coach willing to overcome whatever distraction might be caused by having the first openly gay NFL player on his roster.
    Associated Press

 
 

Now that the first couple days have passed since the announcement, football reality is probably starting to set in for Michael Sam.

General managers, for the most part, are saying the right things, as are players and coaches, but many are not saying what they really think. They know the truth will get them in trouble with Roger Goodell.

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But the truth is some players will be uncomfortable with an openly gay player in the locker room, and some GMs will be unwilling to bring in a player who brings more attention to the team than a similarly talented athlete.

Football people are very much about structure and consistency, and anything out of the ordinary brings more reporters and cameras, and more reporters and cameras is outside the normal structure and consistency.

You can be fairly certain that every media-relations office in the league right now is hoping it's not their team that winds up drafting Sam.

You can be absolutely certain there are coaches who don't want the distraction.

You can be entirely certain that some GMs will avoid Sam like the plague, and SI.com's Peter King talked to one of them.

"First of all, we don't think he's a very good player. The reality is he's an overrated football player in our estimation," an unnamed GM told King. "Second, he's going to have expectations about where he should be drafted, and I think he'll be disappointed. He's not going to get drafted where he thinks he should.

"The question you will ask yourself, knowing your team, is, 'How will drafting him affect your locker room?' And I am sorry to say where we are at this point in time, I think it's going to affect most locker rooms.

"A lot of guys will be uncomfortable. Ten years from now, fine. But today I think being openly gay is a factor in the locker room."

Most NFL execs are not going to tell the truth, even to a reporter they trust and even while withholding their names. This man may sound like a Neanderthal, but his opinion is probably the prevailing one among NFL GMs.

What is shocking is not his opinion. He's entitled to believe what he believes, and he knows more about his locker room than we do.

What is shocking is his inability to understand history. What is unbelievable is his stunning disregard for wanting to be a part of history. What is frightening is that he doesn't want to be on the right side of history.

Ten years from now? You can't get to 10 years from now -- with players and GMs comfortable -- unless someone has the courage to do something now.

Ten years from now? If it's not Michael Sam today, when do you start the clock on 10 years?

Ten years from now? It's not a magical occurrence. You need someone of Sam's character, confidence and playing ability in a locker room immediately, and then maybe 10 years from now players will be comfortable with the concept.

Let's not be naive and pretend that Sam won't fall in the draft because of his announcement. This will happen, if it hasn't already.

But ultimately, NFL talent evaluators need to find talent, and someone in need of a 3-4, outside linebacker who can get to the QB will pick Sam and give him the chance to prove he can be a situational rusher.

It will also have be a team with a strong locker room, with leaders who can control a clubhouse, with a head coach able to easily overcome whatever distractions are caused by increased media presence.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick come quickly to mind.

To anyone who thinks we should be decades past having to discuss such a topic, the current conversation is ridiculous.

Agreed. It would be laughable if not so sad.

But professional sports have not advanced as rapidly as society, and we must deal with the reality facing Michael Sam.

He is a pioneer, and pioneers face much difficulty in reaching their destination.

As he climbs mountains, hacks his way through untamed forest and fights the rapids to keep his head above water, he will be reminded that the locker room is not a normal work environment.

He will face bigotry. He will be tested. He will be angry.

And, like Jackie Robinson, everyone will be watching to see how he handles it, and his posture will pave the way for every gay athlete in the future who decides whether to come out.

If email and social media the last two days are any indication, the world is not ready for Michael Sam. Then again, the world wasn't ready for Jackie Robinson, either.

The 10 years begins now.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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