Freshly cut from the St. Louis Rams, and visiting the Dallas Cowboys for a physical on Wednesday to possibly sign with the team's practice squad, it was looking as though some people had already given up on Michael Sam becoming the first openly gay active player in the NFL, while others like Scott Shackford at Reason.com believe that, "Even if Sam isn't ultimately the first out player, I give it a year, tops."
Without getting into semantics and finger pointing, the Michael Sam Story has had it's share of strange plot twists in the last few months. It was strange enough to see an All-American and SEC Defensive Player of the Year get picked all the way in the seventh round, even despite his disappointing NFL combine results. And when you count the sort of scrutiny he has faced, it's a wonder he could even keep his head in the games he played in and perform at all.
Yet through everything, Sam showed up and played well. He made up for his combine performance, didn't let all of the outside distractions get to him (or at least he did a good job of hiding it if he did), but still didn't make the team. Still, when you combine his performance with the following reasons, there's plenty of reason to go on that we might still see Michael Sam make history this season.
1. Not Every Team Has a Great Defense
Sam had a decent preseason. At the very least, he sacked and mocked Johnny Manziel, providing one of the most memorable moments in the normally uneventful weeks leading up to kickoff, but a fourth quarter sack on a fellow rookie doesn't guarantee anything, and Sam needed to do more in the eyes of the Rams. Had he been drafted by another team, Sam's overall performance may have sufficed; instead, he was trying to play for one of the better defenses in the entire league. Not exactly the easiest thing for any player, rookie or veteran, to pull off.
2. Injuries Happen
This one should go without saying, but football players get carted-off the field all of the time. There will be more than a few teams that will need to bulk up throughout the season, and teams that passed Sam up in the draft might see him as a smart option to fill in a spot.
3. There's Less Pressure to Sign Him During the Season
Let's face it: Preseason football is boring. It's played during a time of summer when most of us are either at the beach or are dreaming of being there, and most of the league's top athletes play only a few quarters. Sam was one of the biggest stories over the last month, and some people around the league considered that as a distraction. Of course, that's silly, but once the season is underway, with fans and the media more concerned with things like wins and fantasy football stats, the notion of Sam as a distraction might lessen.
4. New Fans
Some people have tried to make the comparison between Sam and the greatest barrier breaker in all of American sports history, Jackie Robinson, and it's a tough one to backup to say the least. But while Sam wouldn't be the first out active pro athlete in major American sports – that distinction belongs to NBA center Jason Collins – his presence on an NFL team would be a huge deal, and he would still be breaking a major barrier. With NFL teams dealing with public backlash from players suffering traumatic brain injuries and calls to change one team's name, the league has a number of serious issues on its plate. Sam could provide a very necessary positive boost for football's tarnished image, and the team that signs him could benefit from new fans that would support a team willing to be the first to break the barrier.
5. Sam Could be a Good Player With the Right Team
You hear about this sort of thing happening all the time: A player gets drafted in the later rounds and goes on to have great career. Shannon Sharpe, Terrell Davis, Tom Brady, and Richard Dent are just a few of the names that come to mind, but sometimes it just takes the right coach to figure out how to use a player. Granted, it doesn't look like Sam will have an opportunity to see how far he can go with the team that drafted him, but sometimes it just takes the right coach and teammates to make a player great.