All-American and SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Michael Sam, is gay and wants to play in the NFL. Sam told the world Sunday night during his interview with Chris Connelly of ESPN’s Outside The Lines that he’s a proud gay man. [video interview and podcast below]
For the record, I’m proud of Sam for coming out before the draft. I also believe that barring injuries, he will make history and become the first openly gay player drafted in the NFL.
Here’s the challenge for any team drafting Sam. The NFL has a strict workplace policy that specifically prohibits discrimination of any kind. The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement clearly states, “There will be no discrimination in any form against any player by the NFL, the Management Council, any Club or by the NFLPA because of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or activity or lack of activity on behalf of the NFLPA.”
While I support Sam and am proud of what he’s doing, I fear that many NFL teams thinking about drafting Sam will feel they may be exposing themselves to major lawsuits and as such, avoid including him in the selection process. I say this because for as many NFL players that are tolerant and understanding, it’s being reported that there are just as many players who will target Sam for being gay.
If you don’t think the liability factor comes into play in this situation then you’re just being naive and kidding yourself. In his recent CNN article, reporter Mike Freeman, reports that according to another NFL player, Sam “would be targeted by players on the field and fans off of it.”
This same player reportedly pointed out to Freeman what happened to former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe. While denied by the Vikings, Kluwe alleges one of the reasons he was released was because of his open comments supporting gay rights and issues.
Further support of the reality of problems that might result in legal ramifications and big damages are confirmed by what New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma was once quoted as saying. In an interview on the topic, Vilma told a reporter,
“I think that he would not be accepted as much as we think he would be accepted, I don’t want people to just naturally assume, like, ‘Oh, we’re all homophobic.’ That’s really not the case. Imagine if he’s the guy next to me and, you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me. How am I supposed to respond?”
If Sam is drafted and signed by an NFL team, the team will be legally responsible under the NFL’s workplace policy and collective bargaining agreement to make sure Sam’s legal rights are not violated. Discriminatory conduct directed towards Sam, because he is gay, will expose an NFL team’s administration, coaching staff and even the employee players on the team to both state and federal lawsuits and potential record damages.
I’m rooting for Sam to get drafted in the first or second round and making the roster of an NFL team. He was brave enough to stand up and come out as a proud gay man. Now, despite the very real liability exposure, I’d like to see an NFL team be brave enough to draft Sam welcome him with open arms.
What do you think? If you owned an NFL team would you draft Sam? Please share your comments below or on Twitter!
Here is Monday’s Spreecast with Fox Sports Commentator, Seth Everett, where Seth and I talk about Michael Sam and related issues at the Olympics. Click on the image to watch the interview