The evaluation of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam — the co-Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year who is set to become the first openly gay player in the NFL — only will intensify with the NFL Scouting Combine next week in Indianapolis.
With that in mind, Sam’s agent, Joe Barkett, told the Sun-Times on Monday night that “98 to 99 percent” of the responses from the NFL world regarding Sam’s decision to make his sexual orientation public has been “extremely positive.” Teams have told Barkett they’re happy for Sam.
“It really shows that it’s not that big of a deal, and that focus should be on him as a football player, which is what mostly everybody is saying,” Barkett said.
But it’s still apparent that Sam’s sexuality is of interest to teams. Barkett said there were “targeted questions” during Senior Bowl week in Mobile, Ala., queries such as, “When you were in Columbia (Mo.), Joe, were girls around? What’s Mike’s girlfriend like?”
“[It’s] obvious what they’re insinuating without necessarily directly stating it,” Barkett said.
Those questions and growing media interest prompted Sam to make his announcement before the all-important combine.
Three other agents told the Sun-Times they would expect teams to seriously consider how an open homosexual player will affect their locker-room dynamic, but said teams will handle it differently.
“It’s not just talent and how a player fits into a system football-wise,” a veteran East Coast agent said. “It shouldn’t be like this, but unfortunately I’m sure it will have an impact on a few teams.”
Another veteran agent, who represents a recent top-five pick, said he would seek out “progressive” teams and coaches, naming the Seahawks’ Pete Carroll, Eagles’ Chip Kelly and 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh.
But Barkett isn’t limiting Sam quite yet.
“I am going to plan to approach all 32 teams regarding Mike and gauge their interest on him no matter what,” Barkett said. “I’m not going to rule out certain teams without even discussing it with them.”
Sam is projected to be a middle-round pick because he’s considered “tweener,” a 6-1, 260-pound linebacker/defensive end. Sam is listed among the defensive linemen for the combine, but Barkett said Sam is expecting to perform linebacker drills. Sam has been training at linebacker, in addition to working with noted publicist Howard Bragman to prepare for the media attention.
It’s important to note that since the SEC started naming defensive players of the year in 2003 only one wasn’t drafted in the first two rounds.
“[Sam] feels very encouraged,” Barkett said. “He feels an even bigger weight off of his chest by having this announcement take place already, so he can move on and just focus on football.”