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Defensive end Michael Sam cleared waivers Sunday after being cut by the St. Louis Rams on Saturday.

Lynne Sladky, Associated Press

Souhan: Signing Sam would have made perfect sense for Vikings

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN
  • Star Tribune
  • September 3, 2014 - 9:05 AM

The Vikings can make the sports world a better place today.

They can power-wash the stain of Chris Kluwe’s allegations.

They can give a valuable coach a chance to redeem himself.

They can become admired as open-minded, big-hearted trailblazers.

They can acquire someone whose college history and style could give new Vikings coach Mike Zimmer another chess piece with which to scheme.

The price they would pay to accomplish all of these wonderful things?

They would have to talk Michael Sam out of signing with Dallas — the Cowboys reportedly are adding him to their practice squad Wednesday after he passes a physical — and bring him to Minnesota for its practice squad, a space usually rented by long-shots whose cleats rarely touch an NFL field.

For an organization with a history of embarrassing antics that has proved savvy in distancing itself from Kluwe’s scorched-earth claims, this is a bargain.

Last year, Missouri’s Sam became the surprise winner of the Southeastern Conference’s defensive player of the year award. He’s a somewhat undersized defensive end whose strength is rushing the passer.

Before the draft, Sam disclosed that he is gay. He had told his teammates before the season, and they were so “distracted,’’ to use a word coaches like to hide behind, Missouri went 12-2.

The St. Louis Rams chose Sam with a seventh-round pick in the draft. He appeared to perform well in the preseason, but the Rams cut him and did not sign him to their practice squad.

The Rams seem to have given Sam a fair chance. He projects to be a pass-rushing end in a 4-3 scheme, and the Rams play a 3-4.

There is a chance that Sam is not good enough to play in the NFL. There is no chance that the SEC defensive player of the year is less promising than every player on every practice squad in the NFL.

In a twist, NFL teams are avoiding signing Sam for the same reason the Vikings dumped Kluwe — because football coaches and executives hate it when fringe players receive more attention than their accomplishments warrant.

NFL teams aren’t necessarily homophobic. They are simple-minded. Each NFL team would rather see another team sign Sam, and hold the obligatory news conferences, and have their players asked about showering with an openly-gay man. (All NFL players already have showered with a gay man; they just haven’t been informed of that fact.)

This is where the Vikings can help the league, and themselves.

Kluwe painted the Vikings as a homophobic organization, making special teams coach Mike Priefer his primary target.

Kluwe placed a governor on Priefer’s career by revealing Priefer’s homophobic comments. If Sam proves good enough to win a job with the Vikings, Priefer would coach him on special teams, giving Priefer a chance to prove he has changed.

If the Vikings sign Sam, even to their practice squad, they will be adding a player who is similar in size and style to Brian Robison and Everson Griffin, players Zimmer can move all over the field.

If Sam fails, and the Vikings become the second team to judge him unworthy of a roster spot, then the Vikings and the NFL will look better for having given him a second chance.

Sports teams and leagues spend millions of dollars in search of good public relations. They ask their athletes to make frequent public appearances. They publicly contribute to charities. They are desperate to make themselves look good, for the sake of their businesses and personal images.

Signing Sam would rank among the best public-relations moves the Vikings ever have made, and would cost them nothing but a practice-squad roster spot.

The price of signing Sam would be a holding a news conference, and answering a few questions that already have been asked and answered in another NFL city without causing a franchise to implode.

Signing Sam would do more for the Vikings’ image than Zygi’s code of conduct ever did.

 

Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. Twitter: @SouhanStrib jsouhan@startribune.com

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