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Mid-day talker: Michael Sam and the concept of 'distraction'

Posted by: Michael Rand under Professional football Updated: February 10, 2014 - 12:55 PM


Several good, honest discussions will be had in the coming months on Michael Sam, the Missouri defensive end who publicly announced Sunday that he is gay.


For many of us regular working folks, this is not an issue in 2014. Having openly gay co-workers and friends carries no surprise or shock value. It's a fact as basic as endless meetings and long lines at lunch in the downtown skyway system.

Sam is an NFL draft hopeful, though, and the question of how he potentially fits into locker room culture is a valid one. The NFL has never had an openly gay player, so we don't really know how this will play out -- even though he reportedly fit seamlessly into a Missouri locker room where many of his teammates knew he was gay.

But some will choose to frame the discussion in a different light and will prefer not to have the more interesting talk. They will treat it the same as an injury, a coaching change, a trade or an outspoken teammate.

They will ask: Will Sam be a distraction.

Drew Magary wrote about this (albeit in his delightful trademark obscenity-sprinkled way) a month ago as it related to Chris Kluwe.

And less than a day after Sam's announcement, we're already hearing the 'D' word from NFL personnel guys.

Per SI.com, eight different executives and NFL coaches were contacted, and all eight said this will hurt Sam's draft status. The consensus was summed up well by these three paragraphs:

One former NFL general manager described how Sam's future could play out in the draft room. He said when a team is nine slots away from making a pick, there is typically a declaration in the draft room that six players are being considered. When a team is five spots away, that consideration set is whittled to three.

If Sam is among that group of players, the potential distraction of his presence -- both in the media and the locker room -- could prevent him from being selected.

"That will break a tie against that player," the former general manager said. "Every time. Unless he's Superman. Why? Not that they're against gay people. It's more that some players are going to look at you upside down. ... A general manager is going to ask, 'Why are we going to do that to ourselves?'"

The NFL attempts to pretend that it exists in a bubble and that the distractions of "life" do not puncture the sanctity of locker rooms. In reality, players are constantly dealing with "distractions" every day. And last time we checked, they have still managed to do their jobs and win games.

Don't let yourself be tricked into this distraction discussion. Frankly, it's just a distraction from more interesting questions ... or perhaps even a distraction from what could wind up being the real point: that most players, like most of us who have more conventional offices than NFL locker rooms, won't even see this as an issue.


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