Birds on Sam: If he can help us win ...

ASSOCIATED PRESS Michael Sam, singing Missouri school song after game, has fans on the Eagles' offensive line.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Michael Sam, singing Missouri school song after game, has fans on the Eagles' offensive line.
Posted: February 12, 2014

SEVERAL NFL teams released statements yesterday asserting they would judge draft prospect Michael Sam on the basis of his talents, not on his sexual orientation. The Eagles were not among those teams - in fact, texts to general manager Howie Roseman went unanswered - but that seemed to be at least partly because the Eagles thought this went without saying.

"Why would it change anything?" an Eagles spokesman told an Inquirer columnist. When pressed for some sort of official reaction by the Daily News, the spokesman said to use that statement.

A handful of Eagles players contacted seemed welcoming to the Missouri All-America defensive end who announced Sunday that he was gay. Linebacker Connor Barwin, who has a gay brother, tweeted: "Happy for Michael Sam, much respect, and best of luck in the draft."

Guard Evan Mathis noted that Sam, after establishing a Twitter account Sunday, had 64,000 followers by yesterday evening. Mathis had 44,500.

"Michael Sam flew past me in Twitter followers in less than a day," Mathis said in an email. "I'm a little jealous of that, but I'm only saying that to show how much attention he is getting. I think it was a good idea for him to come out now and not do it during the season. If there's going to be any distraction, he's minimizing it by getting this information out there now and taking on the media storm head on. If a team is scared to draft him because he's gay, I think they are overestimating the problem or distraction it would cause. The 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year has the confidence and the bravery to come out publicly two months before the NFL draft. If a team takes him off the draft board because of his sexuality, they never deserved a shot at him in the first place. All that matters to me is if the guy can play football or not.

"NFL players shouldn't judge Michael Sam based on his sexuality, but some guys will. MLB players shouldn't have judged Jackie Robinson based on his skin color, but some did. Whether or not the NFL is ready for it, it needs to happen. There are still people on this earth who lived through the prohibition of alcohol and the civil rights movement. They can look back and reflect on how primitive those times were. Current generations will look back at marijuana prohibition and gays having to fight for equal rights and think how primitive those times were."

Guard Todd Herremans said he hadn't been plugged in to media yesterday and didn't know what Sam had done. When informed, he texted: "Really? Well, good for him . . . I'm sure there are players in the NFL that are gay."

Asked what he thought player reaction would be if the Eagles drafted Sam, a 6-2, 260-pound pass rusher, Herremans said: "I'm sure that there would be some guys that would be uneasy with it, but I don't think it would be a confrontational situation. They would just mind their own business. I know the majority of players will have no issues with it, and will welcome it, if he can help us win games.

"As for myself, I have no problem with it, and I think it's just a matter of time before more players make it public. But for others, it will take time, and you can't expect people to change their feelings or stance on certain subjects overnight, if at all."

Center Jason Kelce said: "I am happy for Michael Sam, in what must have been a very troubling and trying decision, to announce his sexual orientation to the world. He seems happier in his quotes, and I wish him and every other upcoming rookie nothing but the best in their NFL careers."

Asked how he thought the Eagles' locker room would react if the Birds drafted Sam, Kelce said: "That's honestly a question I don't know the answer to. I think reactions would be mixed, and that at first certain people would be uncomfortable. However, I do firmly believe that how he was accepted in the long run, and how any player is accepted, really, would come down to his personality and his ability to play the game. I do feel that as long as he was a genuine, good, cool human being, and also played football really well, people would eventually get over the fact that he was homosexual.

"Some guys may never agree with it, but his sexual orientation is only part of who he is as a person, and eventually, who he is as a person and a player will have a greater impact on his acceptance.

"I personally don't put someone's sexual orientation into the equation on liking them as a person, friend or teammate."

The Eagles under owner Jeffrey Lurie have been resolutely progressive, but given coach Chip Kelly's emphasis on "length," it's hard to see them as a great fit for Sam, who would have to convert to outside linebacker, though when NFL Network analyst and former Eagles scout Daniel Jeremiah was asked what former prospect Sam reminded him of, Jeremiah said: "Trent Cole."

On Twitter: @LesBowen


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