By now, we know that the NFL and the media completely mishandled the whole Michael Sam situation. What should've been an historic and landmark moment in national sports—the first openly gay player drafted by the NFL—only revealed the deep-rooted homophobia in America's most revered pastime.
Now, according to NFL journalist Howard Balzer, Sam's draft was just the result of some back-alley dealings between the NFL and the St. Louis Rams.
Sources say NFL agreed not to have Rams on Hard Knocks in 2014 if they drafted Michael Sam.
— Howard Balzer (@HBalzer721) March 23, 2016
The Rams, now relocated to Los Angeles, will be the subject of the upcoming season of Hard Knocks, but back in 2014, they wanted nothing to do with HBO's behind-the-scenes training camp series.
“We are eligible, but I think it’s highly unlikely they’d ask us to do it," Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said at the time. "I think this organization has a right to go through training camp with some normalcy.”
Balzer claims the league—worried that the first openly gay player to submit to the draft would go unchosen—agreed not to ask the media-shy Rams to appear on Hard Knocks in exchange for signing Sam.
The SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, Sam was considered a fifth-round pick at best. But, as the draft proceeded on the final day, it appeared he might not be drafted at all. It is believed the NFL didn’t want to face questions about that eventuality, and the Rams were viewed as the ideal spot because of St. Louis’ proximity to the Missouri campus in Columbia, 90 miles away, and head coach Jeff Fisher’s ability to deal with whatever distractions there might be. So it was that the Rams saved the day, selecting Sam with the 249th pick of a 256-player draft.
As soon as he was drafted, Sam was subjected to an unusual amount of scrutiny for a seventh round draft pick—ESPN even had the gall to report on the shower habits of Sam and his teammates. And let's try to, but not actually forget, the wide range of reactions to the kiss Sam shared with then-boyfriend Vito Cammisano when he learned of his selection by the Rams.
Thursday morning, Fisher denied the story, calling Balzer's allegations "absolutely absurd."
“It’s insulting, from my standpoint, as it relates to Michael," Fisher said. "We had three seventh-round picks. When we drafted Michael he was the best player on the board. Who in their right mind would think that you give up a draft choice to avoid doing something like that?”
Fisher was quick to point out how "unfair" this all was to Sam, but nothing about Michael Sam's short tenure in the NFL smacks of fairness. Faced with the myriad pressures of being the first to do something, and the first openly gay man in a sport known for its brutal take on masculinity, it's understandable then that a player destined for—if not greatness, at the very least, mediocrity—couldn't find a home in the sport he had trained for almost his entire life.
Michael Sam went from the Great Gay Hope to a historical footnote in a matter of months, but it increasingly seems that his dream of a pro football career was just that—a dream, manufactured and then unceremoniously taken away by people and an organization that wanted to look like the good guys for a change.
Glad that worked out for everyone.
In response to Balzer's story, Sam tweeted:
I'm not surprised at all https://t.co/wGnyFpuIVP
— Michael Sam (@MichaelSam52) March 23, 2016
Honestly, who is?