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Michael Sam, Manliness, and Those Anonymous NFL Executives and Coaches

02/10/2014 07:25 pm ET | Updated Apr 12, 2014

Missouri All-American defensive lineman Michael Sam didn't go on a fact-finding mission to see if the NFL, and NFL team executives felt ready to deal with a college All-American and legitimate NFL prospect who just happened to be a gay man.

Nope, he just decided that he was proud of who he was, and the NFL and everyone else would just have to deal with it. Sunday Night Sam told ESPN's Chris Connelly that he was gay, and quite content and proud of who he was.

"I'm not afraid to tell the world who I am. I'm Michael Sam: I'm a college graduate. I'm African American, and I'm gay," he said. "I'm comfortable in my skin."

It didn't take too long to detect who was not comfortable in his skin, hours after Sam's interview went public, Sports Illustrated's Peter King spoke to one unnamed NFL general manager who thinks there's a chance that Sam coming-out as a gay man could actually cause the All-American to go un-drafted. That same anonymous general manager also feels that Sam is an overrated player.

"We talked about it this week," the GM said. "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. 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."

I asked this general manager: "Do you think he'll be drafted?"

"No," he said.

Here's the issue for the NFL. If Sam goes undrafted, the league is still going to have to deal with him.

Not drafting the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year would be a dramatic departure from anything considered normal.

An SEC defensive player of the year hasn't been selected lower than the first round since 2006 when Demeco Ryans was picked No. 33 by the Houston Texans.

When Sam woke up on Sunday, he was projected to be selected anywhere between the third and seventh rounds of this April's draft.

Now he might go undrafted?

Sam going undrafted, or his draft stock dramatically declining as that anonymous general manager suggested it might, would be overt discrimination based on his sexuality.

Sam is gay, and because of that there are reports actually suggesting that he will earn less money (the higher a player is drafted, the more valuable his rookie contract will be) or not be allowed to work at a job he has chosen as his profession, and a job he is clearly deserving of an opportunity to play.

There are no guarantees in life, and Sam just like every other player selected in the NFL Draft is not guaranteed success at pro football's highest level of competition.

One thing that shouldn't be in question is whether or not Sam is deserving of the opportunity to play in the NFL.

There's plenty of speculation regarding whether or not a team will be the right team for Sam. After all, whatever team drafts him will have to deal with the inevitable media scrutiny.

If there's one thing the NFL and NFL teams hate, it is the media and media scrutiny. That's probably why the NFL is the only pro sports league in the country that has allowed a major cable network to fashion an entire reality television series around training camp. In fact, the NFL may even go so far as to force NFL teams into participating in the reality television soap opera that is HBO's Hard Knocks.

Hard Knocks, which hasn't lacked for participants since it became an annual summer staple in 2007, certainly paints a picture of a league with a real genuine aversion to media attention. Nothing says "this league needs privacy" like roving cameras on the practice field, in the locker rooms and even in the offices of numerous coaches.

The NFL has no problem showing a coach cutting a player and ending his lifelong dream of playing professional football to millions of fans and viewers. The physical and emotional stress and trauma of the players is eagerly displayed for all to see. Comfort be damned, there are ratings and big bucks on the line. In the minds of some NFL team executives, social progress clearly takes a back seat to money and marketing.

Meanwhile the anonymous NFL executives who are publicly opining about whether or not the league is ready, are shifting the blame for these closed-minded declarations to the players.

Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, the two former Miami Dolphins teammates who spent last season embroiled in a controversy surrounding locker room bullying both tweeted support for Michael Sam.

Yahoo Sports Frank Schwab reported on a whole crew of current and former NFL players tweeting support for Michael Sam. Former NFL wide receiver Patrick Crayton was openly critical of Sam's decision to publicly announce his sexuality, but Crayton was at least courageous enough to attach his name to his statements.

That's in stark contrast to the ignorance displayed by one NFL player personnel assistant, who in an interview conducted by Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel declared.

"I don't think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet," said an NFL player personnel assistant. "In the coming decade or two, it's going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it's still a man's-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It'd chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room."

That statement is both homophobic and sexist. The same man with a narrow-minded definition of manliness has decided that Michael Sam being an out gay man is somehow less manly than remaining anonymous about his own opinions.

What is clear is that the NFL has a number of executives and coaches who are simply not comfortable around gay men. They don't want to deal with them or issues surrounding sexuality or homophobia.

Even if we are to accept the archaic definition of "manliness" suggested by that anonymous NFL player personnel assistant. Where does being too scared of an out gay man to want to deal with him on a professional level fit into that definition?

How does running away, or trying to avoid confronting one's fears fit into that definition of manliness? How does shifting blame from you, and your other anonymous peers, to the players, the same players who take the field and risk life and limb to pay your salary 16 Sundays a year fit into that definition of manliness?

The same anonymous NFL executives and coaches who should be most concerned about winning and losing games, are instead speculating about locker room chemistry. As if prior to Michael Sam, NFL locker rooms were homogenous entities where everyone existed in uniform bliss and harmony.

We all know how harmonious things were in the Eagles locker room after wide receiver Riley Cooper was caught uttering racial slurs on camera last summer.

It was just a few months ago that a bullying controversy involving Miami Dolphins teammates Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin plunged their own locker room into a bit of midseason chaos.

The only thing anyone should be sure of as far as the overall make up of an NFL locker room goes, is that the 53 men who are getting dressed on Sunday, are among the best football players in the world. That's really it, that's why the NFL is a professional sports league.

Unless you're homophobic enough to automatically associate being gay as some sort of character flaw, Michael Sam is an ideal addition to a locker room. When it comes to drafting players, being a good guy hasn't always been a priority.

Former Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips entered the NFL draft with an impressive athletic resume and a history of violence against women. Those warning signs didn't prevent the St. Louis Rams from selecting Phillips No.6 overall in the 1996 NFL Draft.

Phillips went on to become a bust, he spent some time in jail, and by the turn of the century he was out of the NFL. He is currently serving 31 years in the California penal system for assault with a deadly weapon.

Nearly everyone reading this is likely familiar with former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez was an athletic freak, an enormously gifted tight end with endless potential. He also had numerous mishaps while attending the University of Florida. There was nothing to suggest he would carry-out the type of cold-blooded murder that he's currently accused of committing, but he still had his issues.

Those issues did impact his draft position. The New England Patriots selected Hernandez in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft. Hernandez developed into a budding NFL superstar. It appeared that the Patriots had pulled off a draft day heist. Those days came to a screeching halt last June when he was arrested, and charged with the first degree murder of Odin Lloyd.

Put simply, the NFL has no problem taking risks on people of questionable character, they've got no problem with the prying eyes of the media. They do however appear to have some major issues with homosexuality.

On January 2, 2014 former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe wrote an op-ed for the website Deadspin.com. That column bluntly called-out coaches and executives of the Minnesota Vikings.

The only risk in drafting Michael Sam is forcing some people to confront irrational and bigoted fears. That's the only unusual risk in drafting him, the risk regarding his success or failure as an NFL player exists with every player selected in the draft.

If the NFL is a "man's-man game" as that anonymous assistant personnel executive declared it to be, then it is time for these coaches and executives to lead by example. Just admit you're homophobic and then work on getting over it, or just get out of the way. You're blocking progress.