What Michael Sam brings to the table as an NFL prospect

-- by Adam Hocking

Around this time of year NFL coaches and general managers stress the importance of the unquantifiable character, leadership, and intangibles.  If these are more than throwaway lines, if talent isn't the end-all-be-all of draft status, then Michael Sam should skyrocket up draft boards.

The reality is, sadly, this likely won't be the case.  Sam, expected to be a middle round draft pick prior to his announcement, may very well not see his draft position improve simply because talent usually does trump all, and guys like Russell Wilson continually go in the later rounds despite their intangible superiority.

I hope I'm wrong, and if I am, that coaches and organizations really do emphasize the content of a player's character in near equal measure to their on-field talent, then Sam has the leadership market cornered.

Consider the courage it takes to be the first active openly gay athlete in professional football.

Consider the notoriously narrow-minded culture of an NFL locker room.

Finally, consider that Sam could easily have lived an unassuming locker room existence and privately carried out his relationships with no one ever knowing.

Nevertheless, Sam doesn't care about any of this.  He's had one brother shot to death, another disappear only to be pronounced dead two years later.  His older sister died before he was born, and two of his other brothers are currently incarcerated.  In Sam's own words, in an interview with ESPN's Chris Connelly, “Telling the world I'm gay is nothing compared to that.”

Sam has come into this announcement with his eyes wide open, and that is precisely what should be so attractive to NFL personnel evaluators.  Carrying the heaviest mantle in professional sports willingly, Sam is a leader because he thinks doing so is his duty and because he's proud of his identity.  If he's prepared to take on the kind of burden, attention, and acrimony that will unfortunately come with this announcement, just imagine what kind of teammate he will be.

There is no more positive locker room presence than someone that believes so thoroughly in self-sacrifice for the greater good.  Sam has placed himself at the mercy of ignorant fans and media and laid himself bare to the inevitable hate speech he will hear in opposing stadiums.

Now, Sam did not do this just for personal liberty.  He did it to pave the way for others because he cares about what he can potentially represent for people in similar situations.  What Sam has done comes from a place of altruism as much as self-expression.

Coaches and players speak often of the brotherhood that exists in the locker room, the all-for-one-and-one-for-all mentality that turns teams into champions.  Selflessness is a perquisite to building a true team, and nobody exemplifies that better than Sam.  Here's hoping my team is smart enough to grab him early.


Featured image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michael_Sam_final_Mizzou_home_game.jpg