NFL prospect comes out of the closet, but anonymous sources are at all time high. Ironic?
— DJ RedHerring Dunson (@CerebralSportex) February 10, 2014
It was a question I pondered on Twitter Monday afternoon when anonymous quotes from three general managers and a scout emerged like whispers in a haunted mansion from spirits who can’t move on. In this case, these execs can't let go of football's past homophobic norms.
General managers are known for their smokes screens before the draft, but they’ve kicked it up a notch since Michael Sam came out of the closet. In the aftermath of Sam coming out, multiple NFL general managers have begun singing to reporters behind one of R. Kelly’s phantom Zorro masks from within dark, smoke-filled rooms.
I noticed the irony of this dichotomy Monday afternoon and on Monday night Keith Olbermann cooked these anonymous execs over an open fire in a brilliant opening.
As usual NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith took the direct route and put the anonymous sources in his crosshairs.
Via Pro Football Talk:
“[W]hen you contrast a group of anonymous G.M.’s against a 24-year-old college player, it seems like only one of them had the guts to put his name behind his message,” Smith told CSN Washington. “So my first reaction has nothing to do with Michael Sam. My reaction is to call those G.M.’s for what they are: They’re gutless. And if a young man has the courage to stand up and put his name and his face to talk about what he thinks is important, I would expect that a grown man can do exactly the same thing. But apparently they can’t.”
So why are they being so covert with their remarks? Perhaps they’re concerned that keepin’ it real could go wrong. Jeff Orr found out how that can go wrong this weekend. During an NFL Network conversation, Jonathan Vilma learned that lesson firsthand discussing the uncomfortability players would have with a gay NFL teammate. And that was before Sam’s announcement slapped his comments on Google's front page.
"I think that he would not be accepted as much as we think he would be accepted," Vilma told NFL Network last week. "I don't want people to just naturally assume, like, 'Oh, we're all homophobic.' That's really not the case. Imagine if he's the guy next to me and, you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me.
"How am I supposed to respond?"
That’s a good question. Social media responded by eviscerating Vilma. Vilma backpedaled quicker than Richard Sherman and explained his comments further, but at least he manned up and put his name behind his thoughts and opinions. Of course, Vilma has never been afraid to court controversy.
Anonymous sources have been used before, but never have they come pouring out in unison as they did once the potential of a gay NFL prospect became more than theoretical.
"This is going to drop him down," a veteran NFL scout told SI’s Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans. "There's no question about it. It's human nature. Do you want to be the team to quote-unquote 'break that barrier?'"
What’s with the rhetorical questions being asked by NFL personnel and talent evaluators and players about whether players would be okay with a gay teammate? It’s like going to your psychiatrist and informing him about “a (fictitious) friend” of yours to avoid the embarrassment of outing yourself as the one with issues. This is a conversation that Peter King should have charged a grand per session for. In the words of Ben Sobel, ‘I’m gonna go out on a limb here. I think your friend is you.”
That's a copout. If you poured over the roster of all 32 teams, you could find a player that is, or was at one point or another was disruptive to the chemistry of a locker room. However, that one general manager isn’t alone in his antiquated beliefs.
"I don't think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet," said another NFL player personnel assistant. "In the coming decade or two, it's going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it's still a man's-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It [would] chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room."
We shouldn’t be surprised. The NFL is a copycat league. There are only a few innovators holding down jobs in the National Football League at one time. Pete Carroll and Chip Kelly are rarities in the NFL ranks. They set the standard and the rest attempt to replicate their winning formulas. Sometimes we forget that there wouldn’t have been a Jackie Robinson without Branch Rickey.
Another NFL general manager told MMQB’s Peter King doesn’t even believe Sam will be drafted.
“We talked about it this week,” the GM said. “First of all, we don’t think he’s a very good player. The reality is he’s an overrated football player in our estimation. Second: He’s going to have expectations about where he should be drafted, and I think he’ll be disappointed. He’s not going to get drafted where he thinks he should. The question you will ask yourself, knowing your team, is, ‘How will drafting him affect your locker room?’ And I am sorry to say where we are at this point in time, I think it’s going to affect most locker rooms. A lot of guys will be uncomfortable. Ten years from now, fine. But today, I think being openly gay is a factor in the locker room.”
I have no qualms with a general manager sharing his belief that a prospect is vastly overrated. That’s been happening for years. Scouts also thought Russell Wilson was a terrible fit for the Seattle Seahawks. What’s most interesting about this quote is that it doesn’t reflect a personal opinion. He says it was discussed with multiple sources within his front office.
Lower on the totem pole, an NFL scout believes that Sam will thrive in the right system with a major caveat.
“A team with strong leadership at coach and in the locker room, like New England, I would imagine, would be okay. … But without that strong leadership, I could see it being divisive, and I could see a team saying, ‘We don’t need this,’ ” an NFL scout told King.
That may explain why his draft stock has fallen dramatically on NFLDraftScout.com. There aren't many established NFL coaches on the scene these days. However, most NFL coaches should have self-confidence in their ability to lead a locker room or they might as well ralize they're career assistants.
Those may be legitimate concerns, but if your franchise can’t handle a little media scrutiny, then you’re not a winning franchise. Winning attracts attention. If you want to avoid the media, field a mediocre team. Lose enough and your home games will get blacked out, fans will stop paying attention and the media credential requests will decrease.
Conversely, winning trumps everything. In the NFL, teammates don’t have to be friends. The New England Patriots advance to one AFC Championship Game after Aaron Hernandez was allegedly involved in a double murder. They advanced to another while he was facing charges related to his involvement in the murder of a friend of his.
Everyone is pointing fingers at who wouldn't be ready for gay players. Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians doesn't believe the fans are ready. General managers don't believe players are prepared, Chris Kluwe thinks accused his Viking coaches of being homophobes and players like Scott Fujita, believe locker room culture is ahead of American culture–which presumably includes general managers.
It's akin to
a game of Clue. They all killed the blackmailing Mr. Boddy in the foyer while the lights were flickering. The maid poisoned his drink. Colonel Mustard shot him, it missed, ricocheted and grazed the butler fell forward and accidentally stabbed him in the back with a butcher knife he was cutting witb
. Professor Plum noticed he was still breathing later and suffocated him with a tablecloth.
So why are general managers throwing on their fake mustaches and dishing gossip? Let’s go into anonymous mode here. Meet me below the James Bond and Q video below for a covert rendezvous.
Not all NFL personnel execs feel this way, but it appears there is a vocal cabal who would rather not disrupt the status quo. It also appears to be a majority. Out of the general managers who spoke to SI.com, none gave a no comment or came out fully in support of Sam. If you’re going to say it, put your name on it, isn’t a realistic objective most of the time.
Nevertheless, this is the same league where Riley Cooper was given a second chance to mend relationships after his bout with Tourette syndrome specific to the N-word last July. Missouri football already disproved the idea that Sam would divide a locker room. However, Smith and Olbermann are wrong here.
These insights are necessary. Over the last 36 hours, there have been a plethora of skeptical fans openly wondering why this is even a story or if Sam’s deserves to be described as courageous. These anonymous NFL scouts and execs answered that question for you.
These quotes don’t all represent the myopic opinions of NFL execs and talent evaluators. These are glances behind the curtain at the honest opinions and conversations being had. Names aren’t attached because a general manager who admitted that there are collective concerns within his organization or by his conservative bosses about drafting an openly gay player would be putting his livelihood at risk. If you think general managers are old school, imagine how archaic a 70-year-old owner's views on sexuality could be.
Not everyone is as comfortable putting their careers on the line as Sam is. To spend 24 years working towards one goal and righteously light a fuse that could blow those aspirations to smithereens is courageous. Rumors about Kerry Rhodes’ sexuality may have effectively ended his career.
Like trained assassins in the shadows, there are darts being thrown at Sam’s dome. However, he’s not keeping his head low. Despite concerns about his size, he’s standing taller than ever. –Anonymous Shadow League writer