Believe it or not after the recent media deluge, former Mizzou All-American defensive end Michael Sams daring declaration that he is gay is a storyline in its embryonic phase.
By VAHE GREGORIAN
The Kansas City Star
The next stage in his life, the making of his career and the saga of the meaning of this unprecedented circumstance begins Friday when he reports to Indianapolis for the NFL Combine.
Like other prospective NFL players, Sam will be dissected as teams continue to gather information geared towards the May draft.
But as he seeks to become the leagues first openly gay player, Sam will have at least one unique challenge: contending for the first time since his Feb. 9 announcement with the phenomenon of a media swarm on Saturday.
The session will last 10 or 15 minutes, and Sams publicist, Howard Bragman, considers it an opportunity for his telegenic, intelligent client to charm. Sam is no talking parrot, Bragman said in a phone interview Thursday.
Just the same, its the job of Bragman, vice-president of Reputation.com, to make sure Sam is prepared.
And most sure to come up with the media, and NFL teams, he anticipates, are questions about the distraction Sam could cause now that hes come out.
With that, Bragman spoke to the term that will loom large in the months to come.
To him, the word is right up there with Richard Sherman and the word thug. Its just code for low-level homophobia, frankly, and its a way for people to express their discomfort.
Now, it doesnt seem unfathomable that a team just may not want to deal with a perceived circus that could come with Sam as opposed to not wanting to deal with Sam himself as a gay man.
Moreover, Sam didnt come out publicly last season because he didnt want to be a distraction to the team. So, now he wouldnt be?
But its also hard to disagree with Bragmans point.
Distraction is just the sort of vague concept that could be used for broad cover if a team ultimately just doesnt want an openly gay player on its roster.
Certainly, the word seems an even trade for baggage, which former Chiefs coach Herm Edwards suggested on ESPN that Sam would bring.
There also doesnt seem to be any such thing as a good distraction, and the implication is that the specter of potential distraction would supersede all else.
Weve seen felons and fiends and bullies in the NFL. And media frenzies created by various personalities like Tim Tebow. And Manti Teo drafted 38th overall after the bizarre girlfriend dupe was a national fixation.
So just what might be too much of a distraction, exactly? And how could it be that a franchise would feel incapable of handling what mostly seems to amount to some extra media demands?
Its not like most teams dont tightly regulate the amount of media time with high-demand players as it is, so how would this be that much more complicated?
The twist here, of course, is that the distraction element arguably was generated by Bragman, Sam and his team of representatives, including agent Joe Barkett.
They crafted the message and the timing, and they handpicked the media outlets for the most extensive reach and impact possible.
In the aftermath of the shrewd plan, Bragman has heard criticisms that this was put together so Sam could maximize endorsement offers. (They have been coming in, he said, but are under Barketts umbrella.)
Bragman, who has helped cultivate the comings-out of numerous Hollywood figures, dismissed that notion, saying, Nobodys looking for the quick buck here.
And he makes persuasive cases for why it not only was vital for Sam but meaningful beyond him.
We have (openly) gay people in every level of society, every walk of life, except sports, which is statistically almost impossible, he said. And of all the sports, football is kind of Americas sport, and where Americas toughest gladiators play. ...
The research talks a lot about theoretical gay people vs. gay people that people know. And thats where it all changes. If you know somebody and you already like them and are inclined towards positive feelings, youre going to be much more accepting than the theoretical concept of someone you didnt know.
They used to keep gay people down by making us invisible. And when you didnt see gay people, they were inevitably portrayed negatively in TV and film. And now this is what I call the Will and Grace generation.
These kids grow up watching Will and Grace and Modern Family, and they understand diversity in a way that their parents generation dont understand diversity. And its very matter-of-fact for them, and I think thats a huge step.
Meanwhile, he said, Sams visibility and likability give him potential to change hearts and minds.
As for why it was imperative now for Sam?
Even though many pro scouts already knew, Bragman said, the concept still was to own the message and not be outed. And while making it universally known before the Combine had its risks, it would give teams a chance to absorb it, too.
I dont care who you tell: your employer or your family, most people are not a light switch where they just go, Oh, OK, he said, noting the potential consequences if it didnt happen until after the draft: Now this teams stuck with you, and maybe they didnt want you. I understand that, Michael and his team understand that.
We had to get ahead of this story.
And now they hope to keep a rein on it to minimize distractions, in more ways than one.
The worlds divided into what Michael can control and what Michael cant control, Bragman said. What he cant control is when hes drafted, who drafts him, all these questions that remain out there.
What he can control is his physical preparation and his attitude, and I can tell you, Michael is the least distracted in this whole process.
To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter.com/vgregorian