The announcement by University of Missouri football player Michael Sam this past weekend that he is gay has caused no shortage of a reaction. It seems like everyone but the convenience store clerk down the street has issued an official statement on the matter.
We’ve gathered all available local college and pro teams’ responses below, and will update this story as more get back to us. There’s also a debate going on about whether the Falcons should draft Sam or not.
General Manager Thomas Dimitroff issued a statement on Wednesday saying, “We recognize and appreciate the courage that Michael Sam demonstrated with his recent announcement. The NFL has always valued inclusion and diversity. As a team-builder, our job is to judge players on their talent, character and potential. His announcement will have no bearing on how we evaluate him as a football player.”
“We’ve always taken pride in the locker room that we’ve put together,”Dimitroff later told ESPN. “In the end, this about the individuals and how they adhere to our team concepts, our team approach. And it’s about the individual’s character and his ability to make this team better.”
While Dimitroff later used the outdated term “sexual preference” in reference to the issue, the Falcons are making it clear where they stand.
On whether the Falcons should draft Sam
ESPN notes that Sam was coached by Falcons staff in the Senior Bowl, and while they are needing defensive line help, there are other factors at play:
The Falcons also would have to consider if they are willing to deal with the distractions that are sure to surround Sam’s arrival. No matter where he ends up, he would be a focus of attention, regardless of his playing status. For a team coming off a 4-12 season, such a factor has to be examined.
But here’s another factor in Sam’s favor: The Falcons have a strong locker room led by two former Missouri Tigers, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and safety William Moore. Sam redshirted during Weatherspoon’s final college season in 2009. Weatherspoon and Moore were on the sideline this year for Missouri’s Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma State, as reported by Comcast Sports Southeast’s Ashley Zavala. So Weatherspoon and Moore had a close view of Sam’s big play.
Is the NFL ready for a gay athlete? Maybe not most teams, but there are a few in this league with enough leadership that can handle the media’s constant headlines. The Atlanta Falcons are a team with numerous leaders around the whole organization that would not only be able to give Sam a welcoming environment, but also a scheme that he would fit in.
Again, this won’t be a first three rounds kind of pick. Sam gets the dreaded “stiff” label at times and struggles in pursuit, with a fairly limited set of pass rushing moves that mean he’ll likely need to be coached up. Any team bringing him into the fold will be looking to have him contribute on special teams in year one, get limited snaps on defense and hope he’ll develop into something special down the line. The Falcons, with their need for more quality players at linebacker, do seem to be a natural fit.
Given Sam’s progress in his transition to the linebacker position, he is currently projected to go in the late third-round or in the fourth-round. So given that possibility, the Falcons should definitely take advantage if he is still available. Many NFL locker rooms may shy away from any distractions, but this SEC Player of The Year’s expertise is too good to pass up. Sam’s versatility at both linebacker and defensive end would help any team tremendously, especially a team like the Falcons in need of depth. Sam is definitely a player who could play a Kroy Biermann type role for the Falcons.
University of Georgia
Athletic Director Greg McGarity tells the Columbus Ledger-Inquirer, “I think, and I’ve heard others say this, that you would hope in time that this would not even be an issue,”
“I think our environment with our coaches and our student-athletes has always been one of acceptance of really everything,” McGarity said. “Our environment is to be inclusive. Our environment is to be color blind. Our environment is (to say) that you’re a student at the University of Georgia, and that’s what matters most.”
Former UGA tight end Arthur Lynch, who lined up against Sam on the field many times, also chimed in with a strong show of support, saying “On a personal level it’s awesome for him. I can imagine he’s been trying to figure out when, or if and when, he was gonna come out publicly. And for him to do it before the biggest (job) interview of his life, essentially, which is the NFL combine, takes a lot of guts. I commend him on that. Man to man, I think it takes a certain amount of courage and inner strength to do that.”
Georgia Tech’s athletics department is closed today due to weather, but they are following up with GA Voice with a statement on their stance.