Sam had to wait way too long to be drafted

"From last season alone, I should've been in the first three rounds," Michael Sam said on the St. Louis Rams' website.
"From last season alone, I should've been in the first three rounds," Michael Sam said on the St. Louis Rams' website. (JOE ROBBINS/Getty)
Posted: May 13, 2014

If you saw the kisses and caresses, did it make you uncomfortable?

A lot of people would answer "yes" to that question, and some of them are now teammates with Michael Sam, the former Missouri defensive end whose presence made the 2014 NFL draft intriguing right to its conclusion.

Sam, of course, thrust himself into the national spotlight in February when he followed his superb senior season at Missouri by revealing that he is gay. There's no way to know whether he cost himself money by that disclosure, but it would be just as naive to think that he did not as it is to think that everybody in the NFL is ready to welcome Sam with open arms.

The one player who shared his opinion about the kisses and caresses was Miami Dolphins safety Don Jones, who tweeted this: "OMG" and "horrible."

I confess that I cringed a little when I saw Sam kissing and shoving cake in his boyfriend's face after the St. Louis Rams finally selected him in the seventh round, at No. 249, Saturday night. Same-sex public displays of affection are not something that I'm used to seeing, and I also think the cake thing should be reserved for weddings. Those are my issues, not his. I also believe that Sam should not be discriminated against in any way.

That's why I was disappointed when Sam had to wait so long to hear his name.

As soon as he was selected, I started thinking about a couple of things that Eagles coach Chip Kelly said Friday night shortly after his team moved up to take Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews in the second round. The coach was asked whether it was important that Matthews had played in the Southeastern Conference, which is generally regarded as the best in college football.

"That's a great question and it's huge," Kelly said. "It's a defensive conference with some great football teams and great coaches."

Kelly is right on both counts, and so the math about Sam does not add up. He was the co-defensive player of the year in the SEC on a team that went 12-2, won the Cotton Bowl, and finished ranked fifth in the nation. And yet Terrence Fade, a pass-rushing specialist from Marist, was selected ahead of him.

I heard the arguments. Sam, 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, was considered too small to be a defensive end and too big to be an inside linebacker, a classic 'tweener. Scouts thought the same about Elvis Dumervil, who was three inches shorter than Sam. Dumervil slipped to the fourth round after a 20-sack senior season at Louisville in 2005 and became a three-time Pro Bowl player who ranks 15th among active sacks leaders.

Given Sam's prowess in the best conference in college football, he deserved to be selected higher, and there's only one reason to believe he was not. Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans won the SEC defensive-player-of-the-year award in 2005, and it was shocking when he slipped to the second round of the draft. Every other player who has won or shared the award since 2004 has been selected in the first round.

After his emotional initial reaction to his seventh-round selection, Sam provided a more cerebral glimpse of his feelings.

"From last season alone, I should've been in the first three rounds," he said on the Rams' website.

The other thing Kelly said Friday that relates to Sam's situation is this: "Everybody goes crazy about the draft - 'He's a first, he's a second, he's a third' - and then on Monday, it doesn't matter. It's [about] who is the best player."

It's Monday. From this point on, Michael Sam has a chance to prove a lot of people made a huge mistake, especially considering the reason they passed on him.

Sam, in much the same way that Jackie Robinson did when he broke baseball's color barrier, will have to deal with things that other NFL players never had to in the past. He will have teammates who will recoil when they see him in the shower, and there will be whispers behind his back by opposing players. Not all them. Not even most of them. One is enough and too many. Sam was courageous enough to take on all of that by openly acknowledging that he is gay, and it cost him in terms of where he was drafted.

A lot of people probably cringed when they saw Sam cry, kiss, and hug after he was selected much later than he should have been. His reaction was a sign that he believes his disclosure was worth it.


bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob

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