I haven’t said anything about Michael Sam here until now. For those of you who don’t know anything about him, here are the basics. Michael Sam was an All-American linebacker for the University of Missouri who was also the SEC defensive player of the year in 2013. This means that he played extremely well at Missouri, and he declared himself eligible for the NFL draft this spring. He was drafted in the 7th round (pick #249 of the draft) by the St Louis Rams. He played for the Rams during their football camp, and their four preseason games, until he was cut on August 30th.
So why is this a big deal? People are making a big deal about it because Michael Sam is gay. He announced his status as a gay person in February 2014, making him the first openly gay football player to be drafted by an NFL team. The LGBT community rallied around him, and the media seemingly fell over each other in their rush to praise his “courage” for being an openly gay football player. Me? I think it’s all silly. Why, you ask? Because when I watch football, I don’t gauge the players based on their sexual orientation, their bedroom habits, or any other criteria other than: can they play football well?
So Sam was cut two days ago. Some people got upset, and some people made a big deal about it. It seems to me that half of Adam Schefter’s tweets lately (and the NFL’s for that matter) have been about Michael Sam.
Let’s look at the numbers. Every year there are approximately 3500 college seniors who play Division I and II football. Out of these, only about 255 are drafted by NFL teams. Being drafted doesn’t mean you’re on the team, however. See, NFL teams are limited to 53 active players per team. There are 32 NFL teams. That means that for any year, there are 1696 professional football players on NFL teams. That number never changes. What does this mean? It means that, for every rookie drafted in the 2014 NFL draft that was signed by his team (i.e. survived the cutting process this past month), there is another player that no longer plays for that team.
The teams end their year with 53 players. In the months after the Super Bowl, they sign, trade for, or draft enough players so that when they hit training camp in July they have way more than 53 players. The Indianapolis Colts, for instance, had 92 players on their roster this past July. They had to cut 39 players by August 30th to comply with league rules. Of those 39, some may find positions with other teams, some may get signed to the 10 man “practice squad.” Players on the practice squad still get to practice with the team, increases their chance of playing in the NFL at some point (usually if a NFL player gets injured, teams look to practice squads to replace him), and helps the team have more guys to practice with.
What does this mean? It means that for Michael Sam’s dream of playing in the NFL to come true, some other player’s dream of playing in the NFL doesn’t come true. These teams are looking for the absolute best players out there. This year the St. Louis Rams drafted 11 players (Sam was #10). They signed the top six. None of the bottom five were signed, nor have they been added to the Rams’ practice squad. So the three guys who the Rams thought were better than Sam didn’t get signed either, but nobody’s talking about them. Not every drafted player gets to play.
Is Michael Sam a better football player than me? Yes. Is he better than most of the linebackers at the college level? Yes. Is he good enough to be a linebacker in the NFL? Evidently the St. Louis Rams say no. And I’m ok with that, because in the end, to the NFL, it doesn’t matter if you are in a monogamous heterosexual marriage relationship for 13 years (like Peyton Manning), if you like to sleep around and have children by multiple women (like Travis Henry, who has fathered at least 11 children by ten different women), or if you are a virgin (Tim Tebow). Your personal bedroom proclivity doesn’t matter to the NFL, they only care if you can play football.
And Michael Sam evidently isn’t up to snuff. Some other team may sign him. He may work hard to improve so that he can play at this level. If he were to work hard enough to be good enough to play, then I would salute his talent and ability to play in the NFL. But right now he’s not good enough. So can we please stop talking about him?