Did Michael Sam hurt his stock by announcing he is gay three months before the 2014 NFL draft? Should he have waited until afterward? Those were some of the initial football questions under discussion Sunday night in the wake of Sam's historic revelation.
We would all like to think that timing shouldn't matter, that Sam will be slotted in the draft based purely on his football ability and not on his potential for distraction or -- worse -- the prejudice of a front office. The unprecedented nature of the situation, however, requires us to stop short of such definitive statements.
What I think we can say is that in today's NFL, "draft stock" is another way of saying "guaranteed money." The worst possible thing that Sam did by making his announcement Sunday instead of, say, May 11, is cost himself some money if he ends up selected lower that he otherwise would have been -- or falls from the draft altogether. Otherwise, everything about the timing makes sense and seems productive to me.
By making his announcement now, Sam will give all 32 teams ample time and structure to absorb the idea of incorporating an openly gay player into the locker room. When they interview him at the scouting combine, and later at his pro day or in private workouts, they will know they are speaking with the genuine article rather than someone who might be covering up something essential about himself. (According to Outsports.com, Sam's orientation had been strongly rumored in the sports media over the past few weeks.)
NFL policy prohibits teams from seeking information about a player's sexual orientation, but Sam essentially waived that uncomfortable stipulation by making his announcement before this month's combine. If he is as impressive a young man as he appeared in his interview Sunday with ESPN, he stands to only enhance his resume during interviews with general managers, coaches and owners.
My feeling has always been that NFL teams will look past any potential distraction if the risk is outweighed by the reward of the player's skills. If you can play, there is usually a place for you in the NFL.
I've not heard Sam's name associated with anything close to a first-round pick, but he led the SEC last season with 11.5 sacks and will be on the draft board of most teams. And in the end, the path to NFL rosters for low-round rookies and undrafted free agents has never been more horizontal.
Teams prefer the low overhead they provide to balance out the money they spend on high-priced veterans. It's worth noting that 21 of the 53 players on the Seattle Seahawks' Super Bowl roster entered the league as undrafted free agents.
So no, the timing of Sam's announcement shouldn't impact his NFL career -- if he can play. We can't say for sure that his stock will remain unchanged, but falling in the draft -- the presumed worst-case scenario -- would only be a temporary setback for Michael Sam. It wasn't enough of a reason to put off such an important announcement.