Michael Sam's Draft Stock: The Stupidity of Quantifying Gay
At around 7:00 p.m. Sunday night, Missouri senior defensive end Michael Sam announced to the world on ESPN what he had announced to his teammates prior to the 2013 football season -- he is gay.
The sit down interview with Chris Connelly was one prong in a meticulously constructed media game plan that was originally slated for launch after the NFL Combine next weekend, but due to the likely revelation of Sam's sexual orientation from sources other than Sam himself before then, the time table was moved up to Sunday night.
In ten impressive minutes with Connelly, Sam confirmed that the gay community could not have a better representative as the first pre-pro career athlete to go public with his being gay -- he was well spoken, he is well respected, and he has been toughened by real life adversity (Among other tragedies, Sam has lost three siblings in his lifetime).
How that all translates on NFL Draft weekend for Sam became the next question. How will the NFL process this news?
It didn't take long for the insanity to begin.
And I knew the insanity would happen. This is why a couple minutes into Sam's interview, I tweeted this:
NOTED: As of 7:07pm on 2/9, Michael Sam is currently rated the 90th best prospect and 9th best defensive end, per http://t.co/oBzilb47PF.— Sean Pendergast (@SeanCablinasian) February 10, 2014
Within twelve hours, it became evident why planting a flag in Michael Sam's draft stock at the time of the announcement was necessary, because by the following morning, this exact same website had Michael Sam plummeting to the 160th overall prospect and 14th best defensive end.
Apparently, Michael Sam's gayness was worth exactly 70 draft slots.
Later in the afternoon, Sam's stock on nfldraftscout.com had begun its regression to mean, climbing back up to 110th overall and 11th among defensive ends, and it was abundantly clear that Michael Sam's sexual orientation was like a greased draft slot pig -- NFL personnel guys just couldn't wrap their arms around it.
How many slots is GAY worth on a big board? Somebody make some phone calls! Marjorie, get me my sexual orientation-draft slot conversion chart, STAT!
I say this all somewhat tongue in cheek, and this certainly isn't meant to pick on one website. Everybody's efforts to grasp the "Gay Announcement Draft Stock Effect" on Monday morning were hilarious. (It bottomed out with Skip Bayless, noted expert on nothing, firmly opining that it would effect Sam's draft stock by one round. Okay then, Skipper. Glad you settled that for us.)
But that's the world that NFL scouting and personnel types live in, trying to translate every variable, both on the field and off the field, into something quantifiable, and their unit of measure is draft slots and draft rounds. It's the language they speak. I get that.
Here's the thing about Michael Sam's announcement that he is gay, as compared to other off the field variables (I'll refrain from calling it "baggage," like Herm Edwards did in his cringeworthy Sunday appearance on SportsCenter.) -- with college players who have committed crimes, or guys who have shown a general lack of motivation, or players with an entourage, the possible future occurrence of issues are all variables, so you have to adjust draft slot (and, in turn, opportunity cost and salary) according to some unknown risk.
He had three arrests in college, but he can really play. I'm not willing to bet the opportunity cost or salary of a first round pick he stays in his shoes, but I'm willing to bet a third round pick. Let's see what happens.
That makes sense.
Quantifying Michael Sam's being gay in terms of draft slots makes no sense.
With Michael Sam, you essentially know what's coming. There's no "possibility he might be gay." He is gay. The only questions for teams to ask themselves are "Can our locker room handle it?" and "Can he play?" Because most players have come out in resounding support of Michael Sam, this is fairly absolute -- teams can either handle this new ground that Sam has asked them to explore, or they can't. There is no in between, there's no variable risk. And the good ones already know they can handle it.
Getting more specific, I would venture to say that in a locker room like New England's, with a strong, media-narrative diffusing coach like Bill Belichick, an unconditional will to win where we've seen players of all backgrounds fit in, and a strong leader like Tom Brady, all that matters is that Michael Sam can play. His being gay, my guess, would not be an issue. (Or if it is, it would be squelched in short order.) So if Sam can play, why would Belichick move him down from the third round to the fifth round? (Answer: He wouldn't.)
Conversely, let's take a franchise like the Miami Dolphins, with a coach like Joe Philbin who comes across as an empty suit, whose locker room was the venue for the biggest off the field soap opera of last season (Incognito vs Martin), and whose upper management is a cesspool of political back stabbing. It doesn't matter how many draft slots the Dolphins decide to move Sam's stock down, that locker room can barely eat what's on their plate right now. They shouldn't take him any round.
(Nor should the Browns. Yeesh.)
(Nor the Vikings. Double yeesh.)
In short, Michael Sam's announcing that he is gay, while new ground, is only a risk for the wrong teams, and if teams decide to slide him down a round, two rounds, or off their board altogether, it says more about those teams and their culture than it does about Michael Sam.
Cyd Zeigler, who wrote the outsports.com piece about Sam's media strategy in going public with his announcement, put it best on my show on Monday on SportsRadio 610:
"This is the National Football League. This is the most powerful media entity in our culture. The idea that these people cannot figure out a way to navigate some extra cameras and some more questions and some more people showing up for the first couple of OTA's....who cares? The whole goal of the NFL is to get to the biggest media circus in the world, the Super Bowl. Strong leadership can get through anything in sports."
The fluctuation and speculation we saw Monday on nfldraftscout.com won't be the last for Michael Sam, there will be more. Just understand that quantifying this issue, Michael Sam's sexuality, in terms of draft slots should be a red flag unto itself.
Not a red flag on Sam, but a red flag on the front office that does it.
I get a sense that there are a few head coaches and general managers, a few strong ones, who are ready to draft Michael Sam the player where his play dictates he should be drafted. That's why they're good at their jobs.
And the ones who are sliding him 30, 40, 100 slots, trying to figure out just how much "gay" matters on a big board, I would recommend those folks move Michael Sam off their board altogether.
They're probably not ready.
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