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Commentary: Michael Sam Still Waits for NFL Roster Spot

Commentary: Michael Sam Still Waits for NFL Roster Spot

Is Sam’s sexuality reason he’s languishing with Dallas Cowboys on their practice squad?

Published October 17, 2014

All’s quiet on the Michael Sam front, aside from the tasteless joke about Sam that a C-list comic named Aries Spears told last week. But no one has made a big to-do about what the not-so funny Spears said because no one cares much about Michael Sam anymore.

He is yesterday’s news, a player with a compelling backstory, a sports headline for the millennium: An openly gay athlete makes an NFL roster. It wasn’t a headline I expected to see, not with Michael Sam’s name in it.

The fact is that Sam isn’t a good football player – not by NFL standards, at least. He is, at best, a player with special-teams skills. Such players have short careers in the NFL, and when they carry around the burden of being openly gay in the macho world of professional football, they find no warm welcome.

The talk about how Michael Sam’s sexuality might affect his NFL career was never anything to take as serious. For scouts all along had said Sam wasn’t big enough, fast enough or shifty enough to keep a roster spot. They looked at him as a work in progress, and other works in progress – and the NFL has many of ’em – aren’t carrying around the baggage Sam does.

Perhaps that’s too harsh a statement to make about Sam. For, really, is his being gay “baggage”?

In an enlightened world, it isn’t. His sexuality isn’t an issue there, and seemingly it is becoming less of an issue broadly now that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided not to flex its judicial muscle to decide whether states can make same-sex marriages illegal.

But the NFL isn’t a world of enlightenment. It is a place of rigid rules, a world with tight controls over men’s conduct, over men’s speech and over anything that puts a blemish on the NFL brand.

Think back a few months: The NFL made a big deal about Sam’s coming into the league. Commissioner Roger Goodell reminded players about the no-tolerance policy on harassment. His was a warning to players that Sam was always one derogatory comment or off-color joke away from taking a player or a team to court. No player or team wanted to risk court.

So here we are, the 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year wasting away on the practice squad of the Dallas Cowboys, available for any team with a depleted defensive front to grab and put on its 53-man roster.

None of those teams, however, has shown interest in giving Sam a chance to fill one of those openings, just as no NBA team was eager last season to sign center Jason Collins, a journeyman who told the sports world he was gay before last season. He got no warm reception for his honesty.

Neither has Sam. The St. Louis Rams gave him a look, but what they might not have done was give him a chance. Who can say?

What people can say is it isn’t easy for an athlete to say he’s gay. He might earn applause for doing so, for putting an intimate piece of himself in the spotlight for the world to question or to criticize or to tell jokes about.

Sam can do without any of the latter. What he wants is a job in the NFL, but what he can never know – and maybe no one else will ever know either – is whether his sexuality is keeping him from one.

Who Michael Sam is in the locker room seems more important than what he can do on the field, and it’s not a joke that no team has obliged his quest for a roster slot.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Paul Moseley/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/ MCT /LANDOV)

Written by Justice B. Hill

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