A friend of mine sent me a text last night.
“Did you hear about Michael Sam? He is gay. All over the national news.”
I was shocked. My friend and I attended the University of Missouri in the ’90s, back when Mizzou football was more or less pathetic. Still, I’ve been a Tigers fan all my life and I love the fact that, over the past five or six seasons, Mizzou has been earning more respect across the country, piling up regular season wins, bowl victories and sorta elite recruits.
Now I was learning that one of our best defensive players from last year’s team, All-American defensive lineman Michael Sam, had come out as gay. If he gets selected in May’s NFL Draft (he’s projected to go in the third round) and plays a snap for an NFL team, he’ll be the first openly gay man in pro football, generally considered the least welcoming American sport for gay athletes.
I was really surprised to hear the news about Sam because, like the cliché goes, I didn’t see it coming. (For the record, I don’t actually know the guy and I don’t think I’d ever even heard him speak until I clicked on the New York Times video in which he announced he’s gay.) Then I actually thought: “This is great, our program will get more attention and be viewed as a trailblazing force for human rights. This could help in recruiting!” But that’s just the selfish fan in me.
Anyway, I don’t want to get into a big debate about being gay or straight or where the world is headed or anything like that. All I want to say is this: if you’re a fan of a particular NFL team, you should want your team’s general manager to select Michael Sam. Not because your franchise will be displaying tolerance and acceptance and anti-Richie Incognito stuff like that. They will be, but that’s not the point. You should want your team to draft him for this reason:
Dude can ball.
Trust me, I’ve watched almost every game this guy has played at Mizzou, including a few in person. He was solid his junior year, but this season he was a beast. (Actually, come to think of it, maybe his improved play this year has to do with the fact that he came out to his teammates before the season. You can see how announcing something like that would take a weight off your shoulders and make you play faster, freer.)
Against the best offensive linemen in college football this season, Sam was pretty much unstoppable. He was always making plays. He was always getting to the quarterback. (He led the SEC in sacks with 10.5, tying 49ers star Aldon Smith’s single-season Missouri sack record.) He was always looking to strip the ball, always ready to pounce on a fumble. He scooped one up and scored a key touchdown in Missouri’s win over Georgia in Athens (which, at the time, was arguably the biggest win for us in about 30 years). And in Missouri’s Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma State, it was Sam who sack-stripped the Cowboys QB in the final minutes, allowing a teammate to grab the ball and run for a TD that sealed the game. If it weren’t for Michael Sam, we would’ve totally lost that one.
Those are just a few of many reasons he was the team MVP and the AP defensive player of the year in the SEC. (The SEC!)
Is he the next Aldon Smith or Sheldon Richardson? No. But the guy will be effective in the NFL. He has a high motor, a great work ethic and he’s clutch. He’s just a really, really good football player. He’s got the physical tools, the brains and the heart. That’s all I’m saying. Don’t draft Michael Sam because it’s the right thing to do from a “moving the country forward” standpoint. Draft him because your team could use another guy who knows how to knock the crap out of a quarterback. Trust me, you won’t regret it.