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NFL teams shy away from Sam's spotlight, not his sexuality

By Jesseba Fernando
On February 17, 2014

The media's degree of influence should be greeted with wariness due to its ability to make or break an organization or person. Michael Sam's announcement about his sexuality is a prime example of how the media can influence the tone of the nation.
Since the statement, an increase in scrutiny has been placed on the NFL's draft standings for players, specifically Sam. His drop in draft rankings correlating with his recent announcement of his sexuality has given the media cause to rally behind; however, in this NFL draft, a man's sexuality usurps his talent in the media's spotlight. Despite 65 other players affected by the rankings update, Sam dropping to 160 from 90 in the projected draft rankings was enough for the media to question whether his sexuality had caused the drop.
However, not many report how undersized Sam is to be a pass rusher in the NFL at 6-feet-2, 255 pounds. He isn't built like most defensive ends and has a similar body type to an outside linebacker. After his position change from defensive end to linebacker during the Senior Bowl, many scouts and assistant coaches noted his rigidity and inability to react quickly. His performance wasn't indicative of an SEC Defensive Player of the Year during the Senior Bowl as one talent evaluator stated "(In the Senior Bowl), he didn't play up to his rating or the honors received."
An assistant personnel man believes 90 percent of teams were already aware of Sam's sexuality before the announcement. While many believe his drop in the draft may be due to his sexuality, I believe it is because of the media attention Sam is drawing. An NFL assistant coach shared that Sam's decision "was not a smart move" and may "legitimately affect (his) potential earnings." Sam isn't the first gay player in the NFL - just the first to be open about it. He is the first to invite media attention to his sexuality.
By turning a bright spotlight on himself and his potential team, he is providing a distraction for his teammates. A former general manager tells Sports Illustrated, "Every Tom, Dick and Harry in the media is going to show up, from Good Housekeeping to The Today Show. A general manager is going to ask, 'Why are we going to do that to ourselves?'" It is doubtful the NFL wants a rerun of The Tebow Effect. More than 200 media members, including 30 television stations covered Tebow's introductory press conference at the Jets' indoor practice field. His teammates grew annoyed by the incessant questions about a role player. The Jets' cut ties with Tebow after one season to rid them of the unwanted media attention.
Another example of negative media attention is Dan Snyder, majority owner of the Washington Redskins. After the publication of "The Cranky Redskins Fan's Guide to Dan Snyder" followed by a lawsuit that was dropped - it is safe to say Dan Snyder is far from well liked. In October 2009, his managerial style was criticized while the Wall Street Journal questioned his leadership style. Apparently, the Redskins' popularity fell after Snyder took over.
On top of the current opposition, at least 76 news outlets have publicly stated their opposition to the Washington Redskins' name or have called for a ban of the derogatory term. Twenty-four news outlets or journalists no longer use the term. Twelve news organizations have policies restricting it or banning the name. With this much attention brought to it, President Obama said he opposed the name while congressmen asked Snyder to change the name. All this builds up to the negative light shed on Snyder who took over the franchise after John Kent Cooke. Cooke shares Snyder's opinion on keeping the name but the media does not focus on him.
The media has a great deal of influence on this nation. The NFL may be wary of this influence and in which direction it will sway. The media's affinity toward hot-button topics such as homosexuality and race can be manipulated towards personal gain for the afflicted. Sam may have dropped in the draft rankings for legitimate reasons regarding his talent. However, it would be a shame if the negative attention the NFL receives from the media helps boost him back up. The only time football teams want the media to focus on them is during the Super Bowl. They may have also dropped Sam just to avoid the inevitable follow-ups that everyone will want from the first openly gay player in the NFL after he has been drafted by a team.

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