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updated: 2/19/2014 9:15 PM

Special teams could be Sam's ticket into NFL

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  • Michael Sam gets a chance to show he belongs on an NFL roster when he participates in the scouting combine in Indianapolis this week.

      Michael Sam gets a chance to show he belongs on an NFL roster when he participates in the scouting combine in Indianapolis this week.
    Associated Press

 
 

This week the Lucas Oil Field marquee could read, "NFL Scouting Combine … Starring The Openly Gay Guy with Opening Act Johnny Football."

That's pretty much how he's referred to these days: Openly Gay Michael Sam. But that's how it goes when an athlete or anyone else in society strives to become the first of anything.

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Sam is the combine's headliner, or at least he shares top billing with Johnny Manziel, as if this were a traveling circus' first stop.

Sam is open about who he is. Teammates at Missouri had a great season after he told them last summer. Fans at a recent Tigers basketball game cheered when he was introduced.

The next move is for NFL teams, including the Bears, to be open and honest about what they are.

Not mentioned much in evaluating Sam is that he doesn't have to make it into the league as a defensive end or an outside linebacker.

He can make it in as a special-teams specialist.

That still would make Sam the first openly gay man to play in one of North America's four major sports leagues.

No, Sam doesn't have to be a star like Jackie Robinson was when he was the first black in major-league baseball. At least for starters Sam just has to get into a regular-season game, nothing more.

Each prospect invited to the combine goes through it in one way or another: One way being that teams look for reasons to draft him and another way being they look for reasons not to draft him.

Which will it be for Michael Sam?

This certainly is a special case, and special teams comprise a special reason Sam should be appealing to teams.

You thought I was going to say Sam is special because he's gay and because I already have written that it's time for a gay man in big-time professional sports.

No, that's a secondary issue. The primary issue for any player is whether he's good enough at football to earn a roster spot.

Watching clips of Sam -- and plenty have been displayed since he came out -- his intensity and energy and enthusiasm and eagerness to stick his head into the grinder sure make him appear to be somebody who would be an asset in the kicking game.

That might be the best place for a pioneer. He could get lost in the scrum instead of having all eyes follow him around the field.

Scrutiny of Sam's qualifications as a player has raged since a couple of weeks ago when he revealed to the world that he is gay.

A month ago Sam was that outstanding Missouri defensive end/Southeastern Conference co-defensive player of the year.

Since then Sam has been portrayed as too short to be a full-service defensive end in the NFL, a huge project if he's moved to outside linebacker, a potential trailblazing distraction, awkward to cut once you acquire him and/or all of the above.

None of the above is more than chatter until Sam participates in the scouting combine being held at Indianapolis.

The difference between Sam and Manziel is that the former is considered a middle-round draft choice at best and the latter a candidate to be picked No. 1 overall.

Look, it's possible that Sam's measurables at the combine will be reason enough -- or excuse enough -- to dwell on the dreaded distraction factor.

You know, even if players with lesser credentials and ability are on NFL rosters every year.

That's where special teams come in even if Sam indeed isn't good enough to play either full time or part time on defense.

As hard as anyone might want to look, so far there appears to be no valid reason Michael Sam shouldn't make an NFL roster this year.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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