Like any announcement of this significance, the moment was met with a variety of reactions across the public spectrum. Pundits and players alike weighed in on Sam’s revelation, with most initial offerings proving to be fairly positive in nature.
Seahawks linebacker (and Super Bowl MVP) Malcolm Smith was one of the first and most prominent athletes to share his take on the news, providing the following comments via Twitter:
There is no room for bigotry in American sports. It takes courage to change the culture.
— Malcolm Smith (@MalcSmitty) February 10, 2014
Smith’s opinion was thoughtful and enlightened and in stark contrast to comments on homosexuality made by his teammate, Chris Clemons, in March, 2013.
The 32-year-old Clemons, who recorded 24 tackles and 4.5 sacks in a relatively quiet 2013 campaign, will likely be released in the coming weeks to save the team more than $7 million in cap space for next year. It’s not irony, by definition, but in a unique twist of peculiarity, the vacancy left by Clemons’ departure could very well open up a roster spot for a rookie defensive end like, say, Michael Sam. But we’ll get to that in a moment.
With his landmark announcement, every franchise in the NFL will now be answering the question of how a player of Sam’s sexual orientation could potentially fit in with their team. Though there have been gay NFL players in the past, none have revealed themselves to be homosexual until retirement. Should he make a roster, Sam would become the first active athlete in the NFL who is publicly out.
The conversation about whether it is fair or unfair for teams to acknowledge Sam’s sexuality is a moot point — for now. We all know that professional sports franchises don’t operate in the same vein as your standard American workplace. But as more and more players follow Sam’s lead in the coming years, we can all hope that sports will progress to the point of becoming apathetic towards the sexual orientation of athletes. For the time being, however, the situation is new, revolutionary, and will undoubtedly inspire a host of questions. The Seahawks, as an organization that could vie for Sam’s services, are by no means exempt from speculation.
This of course leads us to a debate on Sam’s “football abilities,” which will quickly become code for “everything about Michael Sam that doesn’t have to do with him being gay.” The disclaimer of any intensive scouting report henceforth on Sam’s playing prowess will almost certainly include some allusion to this line of code, lest anyone suspect objectivity has been threatened in the analysis of a now-high-profile prospective draftee.
All that said, there is reason to believe the Seahawks could be in the market for Sam and those very “football abilities.”
As mentioned previously, the likely release of Clemons will open up a major role on the defensive line. The Seahawks face additional questions at the defensive end position with Michael Bennett becoming an unrestricted free agent, though all signs point to the team gathering the necessary funds to re-up Bennett long-term. Further, veteran Red Bryant could be let go to save money, as well, creating yet another vacancy at the same spot. All of this would make it imperative for the Seahawks to add between one and three bodies on the D-line, forging an opportunity to draft the likes of Sam.
The SEC’s leader in sacks in 2013 with 11.5 and a consensus All-American, Sam is described as a “high motor” guy, which would seemingly fit the mold of Pete Carroll-John Schneider draftees. At 6’2”, 255 pounds, Sam doesn’t possess prototypical size to play end in the NFL, however — thus punctuating the “high motor” designation. The Seahawks of the PCJS era have been characterized by effort players who buy in to the system, despite their physical traits or perceived limitations. That alone would give Sam a fighting chance to catch the team’s eye over other names at his position.
For what it’s worth, the Seahawks already employ one defensive end who compares favorably to Sam in Benson Mayowa. At 6’3”, 252 pounds, the 22-year-old Mayowa’s measurements align closely with those of his Missouri-bred counterpart. A rookie from Idaho, Mayowa was inked as a free agent following the 2013 Draft and made the roster out of training camp — he remains signed through the 2015 season at the bargain basement rate of $495,000 per year. Mayowa’s presence may mean that the Seahawks have no need for a player of a similar ilk in Sam, or it may indicate that the team is willing to add these types of guys on a repeated basis.
Beyond “football abilities,” Sam seems to possess the intangibles most organizations, including the Seahawks, would seek in a draft pick. He was a team captain of the Tigers’ program, is generally regarded as having a high moral fiber (“character,” in shorthand), and endured adverse circumstances during his adolescence that would prepare him for life in the NFL. A full dissertation on Sam, as penned by our friend Doug Farrar, can be found here.
From a societal perspective, there may be no better city in America for Sam to land than Seattle, which is among the most progressive cities when it comes to human rights and sexual orientation. On top of that, the environment in the Seahawks’ locker room, as evidenced by Malcolm Smith’s aforementioned comments, would appear to be welcoming. That the team was just crowned best in the league doesn’t hurt, either, and having a coach who is more willing than some of his peers to create a collaborative work environment is also a positive.
Away from the crush of a major media market like New York, for example, Seattle would provide a safe enough haven for the transcendent figure that Sam will certainly become — though no matter where the rookie goes, he will surely be followed by reporters seeking comment on more than just Xs and Os.
It remains to be seen whether the league’s first openly gay player could become a Seahawk, but the consensus is that, as a potential mid-to-late-round pick, every organization will at least have a chance to add Sam’s talents, if desired.
Would Sam make sense as a member of your defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks? For a number of reasons, yes. And should he find himself in the Emerald City come May, there are few places across the landscape of the National Football League that will offer Michael Sam a blend of acceptance and opportunity quite like Seattle.