Cyd Zeigler: ‘The NFL Wanted Michael Sam To Be Drafted’
The good news is that Michael Sam became the first openly gay player ever selected in the NFL Draft this past Saturday. The bad news is that it almost didn’t happen.
The Missouri linebacker was taken by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round with the 249th overall pick.
Just how embarrassing would it have been for the NFL had the SEC CO-Defensive Player of the Year not been drafted? In a word, very.
“You had a lot of people throwing up reasons why he wouldn’t be drafted or shouldn’t be drafted,” Outsports.com co-founder Cyd Zeigler said on The John Feinstein Show. “Bill Polian, in the early seventh round, (said) this is not where you draft a guy like Michael Sam.
“It would’ve been bad. It would have been very bad. I had already started writing the column that not only did the gay community get defeated in the NFL Draft, but the NFL (got defeated as well). The NFL wanted Michael Sam to be drafted. The opposite would have looked terrible.
“There’s a lot of people (in the NFL) – particularly in front offices – who work very hard to make sure the league is inclusive and to make sure that somebody like Michael Sam would be welcome,” Zeigler continued. “This story would have been very negative on Sunday and today. We’d be talking about whether Michael Sam or gay people are accepted in the NFL. Of course, he would’ve gotten a bunch of phone calls inviting him to camp after the draft, but even still, the optics would have been terrible.”
The optics were terrible after Sam was drafted, too – for some people, anyway. ESPN aired Sam’s reaction to getting drafted, during which he cried, embraced his partner and kissed him. This, of course, prompted outrage among some of the less socially aware viewers across the country.
Zeigler, however, wasn’t going to let that ruin this historic moment.
“Listen, you still have people who are racist, people who are sexist – so I don’t let that kind of stuff bother me too much,” he said. “It’s kind of humorous to me. At this point, for somebody to not acknowledge that gay people exist, that we’re not going away, that we have boyfriends, that we kiss our boyfriends – you have to have your head in the sand.
“The only area that it bothers me is with our rights. There are only 17 states where I can marry my partner. That’s the only place where it really is troubling – where homophobia interferes with my life.”
Some wonder if the Rams’ draft choice was 100 percent football-related, or if they were also trying to make a social statement.
“Football is about football,” Zeigler said. “There are lots of reasons you draft people – for their leadership, for their character. You hear this all the time. So you could sit here and point to the (X’s and O’s) and what have you, but at the end of the day, the Rams picked (Sam) because they wanted him and they think he can help the franchise. If there was some hint of, ‘It would be also neat that we make history, too,’ I’m okay with that.”
Sam, it is worth noting, displayed tremendous courage in coming out before the draft, and his Missouri teammates displayed tremendous maturity by keeping Sam’s announcement a secret all of last season.
“I think it goes to show what sports are all about,” Zeigler said. “Sports are about teamwork and camaraderie and love.”