Congratulations to Michael Sam for telling it like it is. Too bad he had to. I never thought I would be required to stand up and tell my potential future employer, "Hi! I'm heterosexual. Is that OK with you?" I have no idea why a professional ball players' sexual orientation is pertinent to the job. Fair or unfair, with no ENDA in sight; Michael Sam will have to answer some absolute, out of bounds questions if he wants an NFL career.
Apologists for this nosiness say these are "important considerations". They need to manage the "distractions".
I commend Michael Sam for meeting the whisper campaign straight on (pun intended). There is no doubt the scouting reports on Michael Sam included his sexual orientation prior to his come out announcement. His calculation of dealing in the open as opposed to secret is a gamble I hope works out for him. NFL teams have downgraded Sam's draftability according to their level of homophobia. The only way to make gayness a non-issue is to show how it's done. Michael Sam must show not only good ball handling skills, but also good Public Relations skills and the combine will be his audition.
With that in mind, if you were Michael Sam's publicist, agent and supporter, how would you prepare him for the obnoxious questions he'll be subjected to at the Combine?
My questions and suggested answers are "as is". When I prepare for a sensitive meeting, I usually brainstorm with co-workers about questions I'm likely to field and what I should say. Michael Sam undoubtedly has already done this, but I'm in the mood for a different kind of diary. These suggestions are out here to be refined and improved or discarded (sometimes the fantasy is better than reality). I admit, I pounded this out to get the ball kicking.
If you were on Michael Sam's PR team what questions would you anticipate and how would you suggest he answer them?
Reporters and recruiters alike will ask:
1. What do you say to the distraction question.
I'm not distracted. My stats show my performance over the last 4 years. I hope to contribute to a professional NFL team in the same way I contributed to my college team.
My team knew who I was and wasn't distracted. Our coaches knew who I was and wasn't distracted. We had a winning 2013 season. You don't have a season like that if you're distracted. We were there to play ball and we delivered.
Professionals know how to set aside distractions and get to what matters which is playing football. Who I date isn't relevant to playing football.
Distractions come in many formats. My being gay is far less a distraction than another player's arrests for assault, domestic violence, murder and DUI. It's less a distraction than another player having to deal with the injury or death of a close family member. It's less of a distraction than any of the run of the mill distractions NFL ball clubs deal with every year.
Part of dealing with a distraction is proactively dealing with them. I came out in advance so we can this put aside and move on to the real issues of my speed, strength and how well I play football.
2. You've seen reports of some sources stating the football is "still a man's game".
I can't change how other people view manhood. I'm a man, proud of who I am and I'm ready to play football at the level expected at the NFL.
I had 45 total tackles and 9 1/2 sacks for the 2013 regular season and 3 total tackles and a sack at the Cotton Bowl. I think that matters more than someone's perception of "manhood".
The question should be, "Can Michael Sam play ball at the NFL level?" I believe my past performance shows that I can, that I'm will to learn new techniques, make smart plays and help a team win games.
3. You've read suggestions that it's too soon for the NFL to have an openly gay man playing in the NFL.
Gay players are already playing in the NFL. The only difference is that I am open about who I am.
If you ask current players they all know who is gay in their organization and they play ball and win games. They only difference is that I won't be underground.
The teams already knew about my gayness in their scouting reports. Understandably, that is a wild card to them as currently, there are no openly gay football players. I came out in advance so they could set it aside and evaluate me on my foot ball skills and put how I can handle being gay on and off the field on the back burner.
4. There are reports that some players weren't as comfortable with you as you would have us believe.
Football teams have lots of different people and personalities. Sure, there are people with likes and dislikes for different people on the team, but on game day, you put that stuff aside and win games. Mizzou's 2013 season demonstrated that we as a team could put their personal differences aside and win games. I would expect professional ball players to be able to do the same.
That isn't what my experience was. I told my secret and went on to play a successful season. I focused on what I could do to help us win games. My team mates did the same.
New situations and ideas can be uncomfortable, but I believe it passed quickly and we moved onto a successful season.
5. Some players say they would be uncomfortable with you in the locker room showers.
NFL teams already have gay players in their showers and locker rooms and the ball clubs know who these players are. These players are there without issue. It's a non-issue. It's a straw man issue.
Team locker rooms and showers are there to support football games and practice. They aren't dating forums. I use the facilities the same way any player does.
Are we talking about using the team facilities as a pick-up bar? because, I don't plan on dating anyone I work with anymore than I would if I worked in an office.
Are we talking about self-control? Impulse control? I practiced self-control from an early age and that has led to my successful football career. I practice impulse control every time I come to the line of scrimmage and wait to cross it after the ball is snapped.
Why would the locker room and showers be a place to be unprofessional?
Every player in the NFL has to have good self-control, I'm no exception. I would expect everyone else in the locker room to exercise the same.
Are we talking about locker room banter? I have been in a football locker room for years and yeah, there's teasing and jokes after a win. ....silence and some recriminations after a loss. I don't see that atmosphere changing much in a professional ball club. Next question.
Are we talking about boundaries? That's not a problem for me. I've dealt with that as long as I've known I was gay. I don't see how anything will change.
6. Are you concerned with potential taunting?
Taunting is part of the game. It's a ploy to get your opponent to forget his job and react. I've had experience with that and I will respond in the same way I have throughout my high school and college career.
Trash talk is part of the field experience. It's part of the game. You have to set that stuff aside. It may be meant personally, but I can take it professionally and disregard it both on and off the field.