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Here is a link to my Tuesday column about Michael Sam. The full text appears below:

We want to praise Michael Sam, who openly stated to the world he is gay. He is a football player, a good football player at the University of Missouri, and he recently went public with his sexual orientation three months before the NFL draft.

So, yes, we want to praise him. But what are we praising him for?

The answer — or answers — are not as simple as you might think.

We are not praising him for being homosexual. In today’s world, being homosexual or heterosexual or blue-eyed or brown-eyed is not a subject for praise or condemnation. As sports people like to say, it is what it is.

This neutral tone to the word “homosexual” is a new development in our society — in most societies. Not long ago, people used “homosexual” and crass synonyms — you know them — as pejoratives. Some people in our culture still consider homosexuality a sin, but most of us have evolved beyond that.

Sam deserves praise for telling the truth, for being brave. He is the first person to openly say he is gay before entering the NFL. What he did took guts. In addition to his courage, he is a remarkably poised, intelligent, mature and likeable person.

Please watch ESPN’s interview with him. You will be impressed.

But even Sam’s public declaration is complicated. He didn’t only announce who he is because it is the right thing to do — it is — but because things in his life were moving fast.

In August, he told his teammates about himself. He was pretty sure NFL scouts and the media knew about him. He did not want to be the victim of rumors and gossip. He told ESPN he was afraid his story “would leak out without me actually owning my truth.”

He wanted to tell his own story. He didn’t want his story told by someone else. He didn’t want his narrative misstated or ruined.

Brave. Smart. Correct.

In the ESPN interview, he said all that should matter is that he’s a football player. Can he help the team win games? Period. “It’s a work place,” he said of an NFL locker room, “people want to act professional.”

And that leads us to the NFL, to the various teams, to the various locker rooms. Will there be bad repercussions for Sam?

He was the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year and led the conference with 11.5 sacks. It is generally assumed he is a top-100 draft pick, third round more or less.

If he falls way below 100, shame on the NFL. It will be an indication the league cannot handle this news, this fact. But I don’t think that will happen. Sam, perhaps unintentionally, put the NFL on the spot. The league must draft him in his proper slot or lots of people will ask hard questions and write critical articles. The NFL is averse to bad publicity. Plus — and this is important — teams want good players and are, or should be, neutral about sexual orientation.

What happens in the locker room is a separate issue. Will he be a distraction in the locker room? “Distraction” is the word people use and it implies he could be divisive or take players’ minds off football.

This idea of distraction seems silly to me, unrealistic. He was not a distraction at Missouri. But let’s be honest. Sports writers like to talk about the “mood” of the locker room, that kind of stuff. I don’t know jack about the mood of the locker room and I’m reasonably sure my colleagues don’t, either. I am only allowed in the room at specific times. I don’t get in there when serious things go down, so I’m guessing here.

I imagine Sam will have no problems in an NFL locker room. Well, to say “no problems” may be a little much. Let’s say he’ll have virtually no problems. There have been gay players in NFL locker rooms, and teammates sometimes knew who they were. Teammates generally did not care and the players in question were not a distraction. It should not matter that Sam is gay. It should only matter that he can play.

There is something else. Maybe you haven’t thought about it. All eyes will be on Sam at the NFL Combine, Feb. 22-25. He will be the story. I’m sure he considered this before going public. I’m sure he’s prepared for this.

Media will want to discuss with him what the NFL general managers and coaches asked him at his 15-minute interview sessions. Teams know this — they better know — and will act appropriately in the interviews. At least, I believe they will.

I guarantee Commissioner Roger Goodell is acutely aware Sam is going to be interviewed again and again between now and the draft. Sam is a major national story. I guarantee the league is sending out a memo to all clubs with pointers on how to handle the situation. This is especially important for the league’s image after the bullying episode between Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito. The league wants to — and must — get this right.

So, Sam has allowed the league to prepare for the media storm that will follow him. And he has allowed whatever team drafts him to treat him with tact and courtesy, and to come off looking good.

Michael Sam handled his news exactly the right way. I admire him.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.

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Comments

13 Comments

  1. Jimmy

    Lowell, you hit this one outa the park. A hard nosed defensive MVP from the rough and tumble SEC who likes to stare down quarterbacks is now staring down the NFL. Good for him.

    February 10th, 2014 11:43 pm

  2. htwaits

    Good, good, and good again.

    February 11th, 2014 12:15 am

  3. Dennis

    I thought that was a very good article. My guess is he will fall below the100th pick, not because he is gay but because teams will not want the media circus that will follow him – think Tim Tebow. The other problem I see is if he isn’t that good in the pros – if he is a bust- teams will be accused of intolerance and no one wants that moniker either.

    It seems to me that unless he is real, real good, this is a no win situation for any team. Not because he is gay but because the media will make his being gay the issue. In the article above you devoted two whole sentences two his football accomplishments. The rest of the article was mainly about him gay and how the NFL had better deal with it. This is not very conducive to helping his career.

    February 11th, 2014 7:57 am

  4. Brett

    He stated “all that should matter is that he is a football player”. So why even bring the subject up. If information about his personal life some how slipped out then I understand why he wanted to come forward and tell his own truth. If not….then I don’t understand.

    February 11th, 2014 8:16 am

  5. Stan

    He’s going to be flame roasted by fans’..skewered with hate, and subject to ..to call it verbal abuse is far too kind..for the rest of his public career if not also after that. Other players will go to his preference in name calling- to be nice again- at the first altercation..they do that now gay or not.
    And,I bet he isn’t drafted..write it down.

    Well, We know what story at the NFL draft will outshine even the “Who’s no.1 pick” this year.

    February 11th, 2014 9:59 am

  6. Mark M

    A couple of tough results will happen for sure….he’ll drop dramatically in the draft and his rookie contract will be significantly less as a result. Seems debatable if this was smart though at least it’s already out there so there will be no surprises in the locker room nor anywhere else. Yes, I’d call him brave as he’s really put himself in a precarious position.

    From a franchise perspective, his value is always going to be equal to his football ability minus the PR distractions and locker room issues with guys like Culliver (do you really think he is that unique?) Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t see Baalke and Harbaugh wanting to take on this challenge. Not sure about the Raiders but that team confounds me completely so that’s not news.

    Brave for sure but this guy is embarking down a brutal path.

    February 11th, 2014 10:47 am

  7. htwaits

    “The 255-260-pound Sam led the Tigers with 11 1/2 sacks last season. He told teammates in August he was gay, and in December they voted him their MVP.”

    Brett,
    “So why even bring the subject up. If information about his personal life some how slipped out then I understand why he wanted to come forward and tell his own truth. If not… then I don’t understand.”

    He brought it up because it was known in August, on his football team. The stage for the NFL is much bigger. He’s cutting off the chance for a “sudden revelation” twist to his story in the NFL spot light. That’s easy to understand.

    February 11th, 2014 11:06 am

  8. Stan

    As far as being drafted,I would bet HBO is pressing whoever is next in line to be followed to draft Sam. That has cable ratings sky high written all over it.

    February 11th, 2014 1:28 pm

  9. Albert Park

    Thanks for the censorship, Lowell. I thought this column was one of the last bastions of free speech. I was wrong.

    February 12th, 2014 9:26 pm

  10. CohnZohn

    Albert, I am the only editor on this blog and I edit for taste. And I thought what you wrote was questionable. Please accept my apology.

    February 12th, 2014 11:23 pm

  11. Johnc

    I hope Michael Sam does well in the NFL. He is too talented not to make an impact.
    As a season ticket holder to Missouri football the last two years I was able to see what a great college player he was.

    February 13th, 2014 9:07 am

  12. Albert Park

    Lowell: Apology accepted. Thank you.

    February 13th, 2014 11:27 pm

  13. Brett

    htwaits – Thanks, makes more sence to me now.

    February 18th, 2014 11:22 am

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