Michael Sam (photo via The Nation)

Openly gay player Michael Sam signed, gets a shot to prove Falcons, NFL wrong

The Dallas Cowboys have signed Michael Sam to their practice squad, putting him back in a position to become the NFL’s first openly gay player. Sam was released by the St. Louis Rams on Saturday, and all 31 other teams in the league passed on him when they had a chance to sign him off waivers. But after the waiver period passed, the Cowboys still had needs at pass rush after several injuries, so the defensive end out of the University of Missouri is going to get a shot.

However, practice squad players are just that—they do not suit up on game day. So there would need to be an injury or other roster move for the Cowboys to clear a spot for Sam, and he would need to get in an actual game, to make history.

After Sam’s release and subsequent “no thanks” by every other team in the league while he was on waivers, the question arose as to whether Sam’s sexual orientation had to do with it.

AJC sportswriter Jeff Schultz felt it did. On the Falcons decision not to sign Sam:

When asked if the Falcons considered bringing in Sam, coach Mike Smith said Monday, “We put our practice squad together based on our needs. We felt like that we filled them with the 10 guys that we got. We have a familiarity with the majority of them. They’ve been in our camp and they understand what we are trying to do. They have a very good understanding of our scheme.”

I understand that the Falcons, who will be mostly a 3-4 defense, viewed Sam only as a guy who could play in a 4-3 base with his hand down. But Smith lost me with the first sentence, “We put our practice squad together based on our needs.”

Then Schultz cited a number of stats comparing Sam to the other players without jobs at the time and the point was clear: Sam is much better than these guys and did not belong on that list.

Schultz ended with this:

The above suggests that, to this point, NFL teams are letting their decision-making be affected by something other than Sam’s playing abilities. The obvious conclusion: There’s concern signing Sam to the practice squad could be too great of a distraction to their team.

It would be nice if this was just about football, like the NFL wants you to believe. But it’s clearly not.

Ah, the dreaded “d” word—“distraction.” It’s something that came up just days before Sam was released as ESPN apologized for reporting on his showering habits in the locker room. Maybe that contributed to the Rams’ (and every other team’s) decision in the days that followed.

But it appears Sam will get his shot now with the Cowboys, and a chance to prove the Falcons and every other team in the league wrong about his ability and whether he deserves a chance in the league.

psaunders@thegavoice.com | @patricksaunders