Story by the Associated Press; curated by Dave Urbanski
NEW YORK (AP) — The NFL draft will conclude with Rounds 4 through 7 on Saturday, and when and if Michael Sam is selected is sure to be the most significant development.
The Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year last season for Missouri came out as gay in media interviews this year. He told all his teammates and coaches before the season. Sam would become the NFL’s first openly gay player.
Former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, an outspoken gay-rights activist who’s claimed he was cut because of his views, characterized as “ludicrous” team executives’ reported anonymous concerns that Sam could be a locker-room distraction.
“I think they have their own insecurities, and they’re projecting that onto Michael. They think they can hide behind the word ‘distraction.’ It’s kind of a code word,” Kluwe told NFL.com. “…the NFL survived Mike Vick, the NFL has survived Tim Tebow, the NFL has survived Aaron Hernandez, the NFL has survived Riley Cooper. Why is it all of a sudden that an openly gay player is going to be this huge distraction that brings the NFL to its knees? That’s ludicrous.”
[sharequote align=”center”]”I think they have their own insecurities.”[/sharequote]
Sam was thought to be a middle-to-late round draft pick after the season and his stock dropped after a poor combine workout. The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Texan is considered a tweener — too small to play defensive line in the pros and not fast enough to be an every down outside linebacker.
“Projectable guys who have to change positions are generally drafted in rounds three through five,” Kluwe said. “A bad combine shouldn’t send him out of the draft. If that’s the precedent and that precedent is not met, then why not?”
Sam is one of a few male athletes who have made headlines by coming out over the last year. NBA veteran Jason Collins was the first. The 35-year-old center came out after the 2012-13 season, but didn’t sign until more than halfway through this season when he latched on with the Brooklyn Nets.
Last month, University of Massachusetts basketball player Derrick Gordon also came out as gay. He has at least one more season left at UMass.
Sam has kept a relatively low-profile leading up to the draft, doing almost no media interviews. He planned to watch Saturday’s selections — there are 156 picks set to be made by the 32 teams — with friends, family and his agent, Joe Barkett of Empire Athletes, in San Diego.
Sam has said he wants to be evaluated solely on his athletic ability and NFL executives and coaches, all the way up to Commissioner Roger Goodell, have said publicly that will be the case.
“He’ll get you coverage sacks,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “He’ll play in the first quarter just like he does in the fourth quarter. 100 percent.”
Sam could end up as an undrafted free agent, which isn’t necessarily a bad way to make it to the NFL.
According to STATS, there were 530 undrafted free agents on NFL rosters during week 17 of last season. There was a total of 404 players on rosters who had been drafted in rounds five through seven, though the pool of undrafted players from year to year is much larger than those drafted in those three rounds.