Tuesday, February 11, 2014

And You Thought Tebow-Mania Was Bad

The most over-hyped, over-covered and over-analyzed event in sports is about to go into hyper-drive this year.  I'm talking about the NFL Draft in April--and the impact that Missouri defensive end Michael Sam is already having by declaring himself openly gay. 

Gone is any conversation about who is going to be the first overall pick in the Draft--or who will be the first quarterback taken.  The only topic the media--news and sports--will discuss from this point forward is where will Sam be picked--and what impact did his stated sexuality have on that selection.  It reminds me of the year Tim Tebow came out of Florida and completely overshadowed every other (and much better) player.

Those ready to paint NFL General Managers and Head Coaches with the broad brush of homophobia are already lining up their ammunition.  For the first time, the "round where a Southeast Conference Defensive Player of the Year was drafted" is an actual "important stat".  Most scouts had Sam projected in the 3rd to 5th rounds--being a bit undersized for a defensive end in the NFL--and a bit slow to be a linebacker at that level.  You can bet that when the third round of the Draft is over--and Sam is still on the board, there will be cries of "foul"--not from people who study football like Mel Kiper, Jr, Adam Schefter or Mike Mayock--but from the advocacy groups, the network news reporters assigned to a sports story for the first time in their lives, and all of the liberal talking heads on all of the news channels.  And if Sam is still on the board after the fourth round--look out, because there won't be a GM or Head Coach who will be safe.

And once Michael Sam is drafted, even more scrutiny will fall upon the team that takes him.  The questions won't be "How do you think he will help the team this year?" Instead it will be "Did his status as a gay man hurt him on your draft board?" "How do you think this will affect your team chemistry in the locker room?" And "Did you make this selection to perhaps appeal to a new fan base?"

We like to cannonize Dodgers President Branch Rickey as a crusader for equal rights for bringing Jackie Robinson into Major League Baseball.  But Mr. Rickey had only one motive in integrating his team--he knew that having black ballplayers would give him a better chance to win over teams that refused to integrate.  If Jackie Robinson had hit .210 and been thrown out every time he tried to steal a base--that contract would have been voided in an instant.

And it will be the same with Michael Sam.  He will be drafted by a GM and a Head Coach that believes having him on the field will help them win--because they don't give the Lombardi Trophy to the team with the most "social diversity".

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