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Extra Points: Sam's hurdle is distraction, not sexuality

<p>Former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam is on his way to becoming the first openly gay player in the NFL after announcing his sexual orientation Sunday in a serious of media interviews, three months before he hopes to enter the league as a draft-eligible prospect.</p>

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam is on his way to becoming the first openly gay player in the NFL after announcing his sexual orientation Sunday in a serious of media interviews, three months before he hopes to enter the league as a draft-eligible prospect.

In the coming days and weeks, you will be told Sam's "activism" was a milestone with significant social and cultural consequences. In reality, it was young man who is regarded as a second- or third-day selection, trying to get out in front of a story which will be viewed as a distraction by more than a few NFL teams.

"I am an openly, proud gay man," Sam, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, told ESPN. "I understand how big this is. It's a big deal. No one has done this before. And it's kind of a nervous process, but I know what I want to be ... I want to be a football player in the NFL."

In Sam's mind, it was a necessary step because he had already confessed his sexuality to teammates at the Mizzou, a fact that any prospective employer would have likely been made aware of while doing due diligence in the draft profess.

"I didn't realize how many people actually knew, and I was afraid that someone would tell or leak something out about me," he said. "I want to own my truth. ... No one else should tell my story but me."

Sam will get his chance, but there is little question his draft stock will take something of a hit in the coming weeks.

Not for the reasons many believe, however.

The undersized Sam was rated as a mid- to late-round draft pick prior to the announcement, which has already generated significant publicity and is sure to generate much more scrutiny for the team which actually drafts him, not exactly a scenario most NFL coaches crave when comparing potential bubble prospects.

Yet it's far easier and more convenient for critics to say that the NFL locker room culture is unwelcoming to homosexuality. It's also a lazy and myopic viewpoint which fails to recognize the ultimate goal of any organization -- winning.

The prevailing wisdom remains that an openly gay player won't be accepted in a locker room full of Richie Incognitios, who prey on the sensitive people of the world.

And let's be honest, every single football locker room from high school on up to the Dallas Cowboys has an Incognito-type meathead who evolution forgot or at least skipped over to a certain degree.

Men jest. They joke and they needle. It can range from something as small as being whipped by another player's girlfriend to something as potentially harmful as race or sexuality. Yet many, including Sam, remain very protective of the culture

"Hopefully, it will be the same like my locker room (at Mizzou)," he said. "It's a workplace. if you've ever been in a Division I or pro locker room, it's a business place. You want to act professional."

The truth is Sam -- like every other player -- has already been taunted and heckled at times in the locker room environment, but why do we assume a 6- foot-2, 260-pound man wasn't able to give as good as he gets?

That's a question that should be posed to every activist in the world, who are convinced any potential gay player being ostracized by those big bad troglodytes is a shrinking violet.

"If you led the SEC with 11 1/2 sacks and 19 tackles for losses. If a gay person did that, I wouldn't call that person weak," Sam said.

The truth is if Sam was regarded as a top-10 talent before the announcement, he would have still been viewed as one after it.

That's not to say some weaker organizations, who shy away from any added public relations nuisance wouldn't have thought twice about snaring him, but a big-time player is going to get the benefit of the doubt in plenty of scenarios and sexuality sure beats things like drug or legal issues.

Most scouts peg Sam's ceiling in the draft as a third-round pick, with a possible position switch to outside linebacker.

"I just want to go to the team who drafts me," Sam said, "because that team knows about me, knows that I'm gay, and also knows that I work hard. That's the team I want to go to."

That team, however, doesn't want to know if Sam is gay. They do want to know if he can rush the passer.

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