Let’s take a close look at Michael Sam, the Football Player. Michael Sam is a former Missouri Tigers defensive end. He earned a first-team All-SEC selection, named the SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, and became just the second unanimous All-American in Missouri football history. He was a big part of a Missouri team and defense that exceeded all expectations in 2013 by nearly winning the SEC championship and winning the Cotton Bowl over a very good Oklahoma State team. It was a magical season for the Tigers.
Displaying strength, quickness, aggression, and a constant motor, Michael Sam was a late bloomer. He recorded 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss in his senior season alone. At 6’2” 260 lbs, he is considered to be a ‘tweener’ and questions linger about his pro potential according to NFL scouts. Sam doesn’t possess the prototypical size for an NFL defensive lineman, especially in a 4-3 scheme, but he makes up for his size with his ferocity and holding the point of attack, which makes him an intriguing draft pick. Just ask some of his former teammates and participants at the Senior Bowl. Former Missouri DE, Kony Ealy, who is projected to go high in the NFL draft, describes Sam as a “warrior with a limitless work ethic.” Sam’s size projects him as a very good pass rushing outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. That would mitigate the size issue and take advantage of his pass rushing skills on the perimeter. He reminds me of a bigger version of James Harrison who has had a pretty remarkable career. Michael Sam would be a good fit for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 3rd round learning under Dick LeBeau and newly hired defensive coach Joey Porter. At the NFL Combine press conference, Sam stated that he admires and models his game after Hall of Famer Michael Strahan.
Regardless of his 40 time or his performance at the NFL Combine, Michael Sam has history on his side. The previous ten winners of the SEC defensive player of year award fared well in the draft with eight of them going in the first round. Wherever he goes, he exhibits the maturity at 24 and work ethic to be successful at the next level.
Now, let’s take a look at Michael Sam, the Person. Michael Sam came out publicly to the media that he was gay two weeks ago. His teammates, coaches, and classmates were well aware of it for a while now, but his press conference on Saturday at the NFL combine was his first public appearance since the announcement. We knew it would be a circus with a barrage of every non-football question imaginable. What we didn’t know is that he would handle it so well and with so much composure, charisma, focus, and confidence. He owned the moment and answered every question squarely and directly.
It is widely believed that there are other gay players in the NFL, but this kind of openness has set a precedent. Assuming that he will be drafted, he will be the first openly gay player in league history. No matter what you believe or what side you’re on, this is something historic and transcendent. PR move or the right thing to do? It certainly was brave and coming out now before ever setting foot on a NFL field gives him the authority to control his own story. There will be no secrets or questions. Sam understands true hardship up close from the loss and death of family members to incarceration. Sam says “telling the world he is gay doesn’t even compare to those things.”
In a nutshell, Michael Sam seems like a really, good, persevering, humble person who happens to be a great teammate and great football player. Timing, instincts, and leadership are crucial in professional sports and Michael Sam has mirrored them characteristics. His teammates will tell you that it is his passion for football and ability to help them decompress from the stress-filled environment of football is one of his strengths. Let’s hope the NFL is also brave enough to allow him to write the rest of the script.