Many parallels between Jackie Robinson and Michael Sam exist, with a few glaring differences — among them, Jackie was a brilliant player, and so far Sam may be just another guy.
Michael Sam is a big deal to a lot of people, and even if you don’t much care for what should be a nonissue (you may have heard he’s gay), it would be better for everyone if he was good at NFL football so we can be done with this sooner rather than later.
So the next time a player comes out and tries to make it in the NFL, we truly do not care and there are no conspiracy theories about jersey sales, questions about showers or locker room integration.
Until there is a gay football player that proves he can play, it will be a distraction for coaches, and teams will be accused of giving them a shot in order to generate buzz and sell a few jerseys. Or they will be accused of avoiding him because of his sexuality, or at the very least the questions that come with it.
As much as Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett would prefer Sam’s arrival be just about football, it’s not until it’s not.
“Those questions [about Sam’s sexuality] are external,” Garrett said Wednesday. “We are focused on football.”
Few people doubted when the St. Louis Rams drafted Sam it was about anything other than football.
But the Dallas Cowboys are owned by Jerry Jones, making it plausible to consider that adding Sam is a stunt with ulterior motives far removed from the game of football but precisely for the business of football.
A source told the Star-Telegram’s Clarence E. Hill Jr. the team does not normally sell the jerseys of practice squad players, but had planned to do so with Sam’s No. 46 at the team store.
The Cowboys, however, have since changed their mind and will not be selling the jersey. For now, they want this to be about football.
“For us, he’s a football player,” quarterback Tony Romo said. “Everyone has different politics, religious views or things. In the locker room, no one cares. Can you help us win?”
Given this nation’s history of discrimination against all things not-white and not-heterosexual, it is equally difficult not to consider other factors have been used against Sam in his efforts to secure an NFL job.
Sam was a seventh-round pick who was passed on by every NFL team after he was cut by the Rams despite a strong preseason. Given the Rams’ depth at defensive line, it is not a reach to think Sam was cut for the right reasons — he was not good enough for that team.
But given Sam’s college résumé — 2013 SEC defensive player of the year — and preseason stats — 11 tackles and a team-leading three sacks — it is suspicious that every team other than the Cowboys passed on even looking at Sam for its practice squad.
Maybe it is all just a coincidence, and nearly every NFL personnel type agrees Sam is not good enough.
Maybe Sam is what they say — a tweener who needs to be faster, or bigger.
“Did you watch my preseason?” Sam said when I asked him if he felt the need to speed up or get bigger.
(The answer is, no. No one should watch St. Louis Rams preseason football unless forced.)
“Did you think I was slow? I’m a [defensive] end,” he said.
Maybe Sam is another Jackson Jeffcoat, the 2013 Big 12 co-defensive player of the year from Texas who went undrafted, was cut by his first team and recently signed with the Washington Redskins’ practice squad.
Maybe most teams don’t care about Sam’s sexuality, the fear of how a gay man will fit in football’s macho world, and merely don’t want to deal with the questions. NFL teams increasingly don’t want to deal with borderline guys if there are going to be headaches, and questions qualify as an annoyance.
The problem for Sam, or any gay player, is that until a gay player can really play, all of these scenarios have to be considered, as sad as that is.
All rookies are borderline guys, and given the slotted nature of the NFL — much like the NBA, tweeners don’t last long — Sam has a few things not in his favor, beginning with his frame. If Sam is somehow good, a lot of NFL people are going to look stupid and like a pack of throwback homophobes.
What Sam has now is another chance, which on the practice squad is merely peripheral.
A practice squad player’s role is “to facilitate practice,” Garrett said.
For the specific sake of the Cowboys, who are in desperate need of help to rush the passer, it would be best if Sam is the rare case of the practice squad player who makes it to the active roster, and is good at his job.
Looking at the Cowboys’ depth chart, bet big he will make it to the 53. After that, it’s on him.
For the NFL, and society in general, it would be better for everyone if Michael Sam was good at NFL football so we can be all done with this sooner rather than later.
So that the next Michael Sam will just be about football, and won’t be that big of a deal.
Follow Mac Engel on The Big Mac Blog at star-telegram.com/sports/.