Yesterday, Michael Sam primed himself to become the NFL’s first openly gay player by coming out in dual interviews with ESPN and The New York Times, whose headline said it all: “N.F.L. Prospect Proudly Says What Teammates Knew: He’s Gay.” In the process, he effectively handed the NFL what could be a considered a Get Out of the Dark Ages Free card.
If public response thus far is any indication, Sam’s problem won’t be the other players in the NFL. It’s going to be, as former Minnesota Viking Chris Kluwe tweeted, the folks in the front office. While congratulations from Sam’s teammates, other athletes, and well-wishers flooded Twitter (his account drew 18,000 new followers less than an hour after the news broke), the eight NFL executives and coaches who spoke with Sports Illustrated on condition of anonymity were decidedly less optimistic.
"I don't think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet," said an NFL player personnel assistant, adding, “It'd chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.” An NFL assistant coach called Sam's decision "not a smart move,” saying that it "legitimately affects [his] potential earnings." A former general manager alleged that his concerns were rooted in avoiding a possible media circus that might distract attention from the game: “Every Tom, Dick and Harry in the media is going to show up, from Good Housekeeping to the Today show. A general manager is going to ask, 'Why are we going to do that to ourselves?'" Every single one of them agreed that Sam’s announcement would cause him to drop in this May’s draft, and today’s news that Sam fell 70 points on CBS’s draft prospect board overnight indicate an early negative response to his announcement.