Think back to a year ago, when drafting Manti Te'o was going to be the death of some NFL team's locker room.
He won't be accepted! There will be a media circus every day! DISTRACTIONS!!!!
During the NFL season, I don't remember one significant or interesting thing being said or written about Te'o and the whole deal with his fake girlfriend. Te'o started 13 games for the Chargers, had 61 tackles and was a part of a team that made the playoffs. He was a fairly typical rookie who played pretty well and that was it. Dr. Phil didn't show up for locker-room availability every Wednesday. The "Today" show never came by to blow the lid off of ... well, I'm not sure what.
Michael Sam's story itself is much different. This isn't a weird scandal about a girlfriend that was a hoax, it's about a young man coming out as gay, something that no NFL player has done during his career. I'm not equating the two situations, just the false narratives surrounding them. Since Sam made his announcement on Sunday, I keep hearing that drafting Sam would somehow be a daily circus that would wreck an NFL team. That's not realistic.
Sam will face a lot of questions at the NFL scouting combine next week. For the team that drafts him, the media in that city will revisit the story for its fans. In training camp, the local and national media will check in to see how he's being accepted and all of that.
And then ... what?
Anyone who thinks that Sam will be the focus of attention every day isn't thinking about this clearly (and that includes some media members who should know better). There's only so many ways to say, "Michael Sam, the NFL's first openly gay player." Even if Sam decided to talk about being gay every day during the season (and he won't), it would get old by about Day 3. Maybe sooner. Beat writers will go write about the quarterback's accuracy issues or the cornerback's hamstring injury.
His teammates' acceptance of him will be a story, but they won't be dumb enough to harass Sam. They are aware how San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver was criticized for anti-gay statements at the Super Bowl a year ago. They saw through Richie Incognito how acting unprofessionally around a teammate in the locker room can end up. NFL players have already shown plenty of support for Sam. The general attitude is they don't care about a guy's sexual preference as long as he can play. The ones that don't agree with him being gay aren't going to ruin their careers over it. Presumably, there won't be any angle there.
Coaches and management are the last people who are going to want to talk about Sam's sexual preference. No story there either. Sam will deal with questions here and there about it, but trust me from experience, nobody asks the same question every day. "Michael Sam is gay!" was written on Feb. 9, nobody's going to care to write about it, talk about it, read about it or hear about the same exact story on Oct. 15 or whenever. Just like nobody asked Te'o about a fake girlfriend every day during the season, or during the season at all really. There's only so much you can say about a static topic.
Sam being a distraction is a false narrative NFL teams probably do worry about, because they worry about everything, even things that don't exist in reality. Let's say Sam, being someone others in the LGBT community might look up to, does some national interviews. He talks to "60 Minutes" one week and "NBC Nightly News" the next. Do you know how that affects the team? The quarterback will still be in at 6 a.m. to watch film. The defensive back will still read his playbook. The offensive tackle will still lift weights as usual. It won't be the first time a teammate has gotten attention or spoke out about a personal cause. Football players are not that fragile. They do their jobs. Remember how Richard Sherman's interview after the NFC title game was going to be such a distraction for Seattle leading up to the Super Bowl. How did that work out?
People have equated Sam to Tim Tebow as far as media attention. There's a major difference. The attention paid to Tebow when he was in the NFL would have died down if his ability on the field wasn't such a divisive issue. Every week during the season, there was a new game and new interesting ground to cover – How did he throw the ball? Why is he on special teams? Why won't the Jets put him in for struggling Mark Sanchez? There likely won't be anything like that for Sam, who is a defensive lineman/linebacker who probably won't even play that much as a rookie (if he plays at all – the concerns about how he fits in an NFL defense as an undersized end probably will affect his draft stock more than him being gay).
Thinking that Sam will be a daily distraction to a team is a lazy, mindless story line that won't play out as such this fall. The panic about Te'o being a "major distraction" never happened. It won't for Sam either.
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