The NFL, like any sports league, would like you to believe it’s not exclusionary. The problem with that expectation is a league can’t speak or act for individual team builders. That’s why Michael Sam is out of a job today -- and for anybody who believes Sam’s sexuality has nothing to do with him being out of work today, keep reading.
The St. Louis Rams released the former Missouri defensive lineman, who became the first athlete in history to disclose publicly before the start of his career that he was homosexual. The Rams don’t deserve criticism for cutting Sam because they also drafted him. They're ahead of the other 31 teams, even if it took until the seventh round and 249th overall selection before the SEC’s 2013 Defensive Player of the Year came off the board.
To this point, no team, including the pass-rush-starved Falcons, has signed Sam to its practice squad. If it stays that way and Sam has to go to Canada or some place to find a job, the NFL should be embarrassed.
Teams can sign 10 players to the practice squad, accounting for 320 jobs. In other words, in a league where pressuring the quarterback is one of the primary objectives, there is no room to this point for a player who won All-American honors at Missouri and accumulated 21 career sacks, including 11½ sacks and 19 tackles for loss as a senior.
When asked if the Falcons considered bringing in Sam, coach Mike Smith said Monday, “We put our practice squad together based on our needs. We felt like that we filled them with the 10 guys that we got. We have a familiarity with the majority of them. They’ve been in our camp and they understand what we are trying to do. They have a very good understanding of our scheme.”
I understand that the Falcons, who will be mostly a 3-4 defense, viewed Sam only as a guy who could play in a 4-3 base with his hand down. But Smith lost me with the first sentence, “We put our practice squad together based on our needs.”
Still don't believe Sam's sexuality is a factor? Keep reading.
Statistics in the NFL’s preseason can be misleading. But Sam had three sacks for the Rams. According to NFL.com, only 12 players had at least 2½ sacks. Ten of the 12 are on active rosters and one (San Diego’s Cordarro Law) was signed to the Chargers’ practice squad.
The other is Sam.
I’ll keep going.
There were 49 players in the preseason who recorded at least two sacks: 38 are on active rosters. Five have been signed to practice squads. That leaves six without jobs today. One is Sam. Here are the other five:
• Kaelin Burnett, who was undrafted in 2012, signed and spent two years with the Oakland Raiders and suffered a knee injury in this training camp.
• Marcus Dixon, who has spent time with four teams since 2008, including two years with Dallas.
• Larry English, a former first-round pick who played for San Diego for five years and failed to win a job in camp with Tampa Bay.
• Israel Idonije, who has been in the NFL since 2003 but failed to make the New York Giants’ roster.
• Martez Wilson, who played three years in the league with New Orleans, Oakland and Dallas.
All five have spent time in the league, some for a significant number of seasons. Sam is the only young player, just out of college, coming off a great collegiate career, who logically has a potentially upside. That's what the league is about, and that's certainly what the practice squad is about.
The above suggests that, to this point, NFL teams are letting their decision-making be affected by something other than Sam’s playing abilities. The obvious conclusion: There’s concern signing Sam to the practice squad could be too great of a distraction to their team.
It would be nice if this was just about football, like the NFL wants you to believe. But it’s clearly not.