Over the weekend Michael Sam, an NFL defensive end prospect from Missouri, said in an interview with ESPN that he is gay.
Sam stated that he came out to his teammates and coaches back in August, before his senior campaign began. In the interview, he stated “I am an openly, proud gay man.”
If drafted, or signed to an NFL team, he would be the first openly gay player at the professional level. He should be applauded for his courage to come out. It is sad that this is such a huge news story as a player’s orientation really shouldn’t be all that important. While no other player has come out, statistics suggest that there could be anywhere between 10-20 players in the NFL who are gay.
Sam is a talented athlete and his personal preferences shouldn’t have an impact on his future NFL career.
Sam was named SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year for 2013. He led the conference in sacks and tackles for loss per game. He finished the year with 11.5 sacks and 19 TFLs.
Sam is considered to be a mid-fourth round selection in the upcoming draft. He can help his stock via the combine and through workouts, but he is listed at 6-2 and 255-pounds which is undersized for your typical defensive end. He can be effective on the line but its also very likely that he will have to switch positions, probably to outside linebacker.
Phil Richards of the Indianapolis Star asked a number of Colts players if having a gay teammate would bother them. The answer was a resounding no. They don’t care what his preference is as long as he is a good teammate and can produce on the field.
Colts’ GM Ryan Grigson indicated that Sam’s announcement wouldn’t impact their evaluation process.
This raises the question: would Sam be a good fit with the Colts?
Certainly from the perspective of how he would be treated by his teammates, he seems like a solid fit. This organization has been very open and accepting. There is no doubt that Sam would be welcomed with open arms by the staff and players on the roster.
The Colts would also be well equipped to deal with the media storm that will descend on any team that signs Sam to their roster. Indy has dealt with excessive scrutiny from the media multiple times, and most recently following the 2012 season (where they let that one guy go).
He would fit well with this organization in terms of locker room atmosphere and coaching.
The real question then, is does he fit scheme wise?
As we said before, Sam is an undersized defensive end. He played in a 4-3 system and typically rushed the passer from a three point stance (think Mathis and Dwight Freeney before Chuck Pagano took over). As it stands now, he is simply too small to play on the defensive line for the Colts. That means he would have to transition to linebacker.
The Colts currently have Mathis, Erik Walden, and Bjoern Werner at the position. Drafting Sam would mean taking on a project since he’d have to change position. Werner is already in that process, and its unlikely that the Colts would want to have two such players in the same boat. Indy certainly needs a more consistent pass rush, but Sam isn’t going to produce at a level the Colts would like for a few seasons.
The Colts simply have too many other pressing needs to use a draft pick on Sam. Defensive tackle, corner back, safety, and inside linebacker all need to be addressed on the defensive side of the ball. And they still need to find another wide receiver and get some line help on the offensive side. With a limited number of draft picks this year (just four) and positions with more glaring holes, its unlikely the Colts go after Sam.
Sam is a talented player that will likely be a positive influence where ever he ends up, but from a position stand point, its not going to be with Indianapolis.