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NFL AM: Michael Sam Talks to ‘Lots of’ Gay NFL Players

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Sam Cites ‘Lots of’ Gay Players in the NFL

Michael Sam is not an NFL employee anymore; what he is, apparently, is a sounding board for “lots of” closeted gay players who are still active in the league.

“I am not the only gay person in the NFL,” said Sam during a recent speech and Q&A session in Dallas. “I’m just saying there is a lot of us. I respect the players that did reach out to me and had the courage to tell me that they were also gay, but they do not have the same courage as I do to come out before I even played a down in the NFL.”

Sam’s decision to come out was courageous, to be sure. But it was also a business decision. So to imply the other gay players in the league — and, yes, there are several of them — lack courage is not entirely fair. Instead, these players are choosing to follow a different business model than Sam.

There are pros and cons to both paths. Sam, who wears his sexuality on his sleeve, has become a household name. To put it in perspective: How many headlines did you see over the last 12 months that included Sam’s name? And how many did you see that included Ryan Tannehill’s name? Now go back and look at what those two players accomplished last season.

On the flip side, the league’s other gay players choose to fly under the radar. As a result, they can come and go as they please without creating a media circus and becoming a distraction. And that is the real obstacle facing Sam: teams are not shying away from him because he’s gay — they are shying away because coaches don’t want to spend an hour per day answering questions about their third-string defensive end.

“Hopefully I’m not being discriminated [against] because I’m gay,” Sam said. “I don’t believe that I’m being discriminated [against] because I’m gay. I just want to know if I’m truly not in the NFL, it’s because of talent. Let it be because of my talents. But you’ve got to prove that I can’t play this game. If you look at the film, clearly I can. So, I’ll leave it at that.”

This is where Sam has it backwards … teams don’t have to prove he can’t play. It is up to him to prove he can play. Being named the SEC co-defensive player of the year as a senior at Missouri was nice, but it doesn’t prove his skills translate to the NFL. And a few preseason sacks and a 4.99-second 40-yard dash don’t exactly move the needle, either.

Sam’s courageous decision to come out as gay earned him a place in the limelight. But it is what he does between the hashes — not between the headboards — that will determine his future in the NFL.

Panthers Pick Up Jonathan Martin

OK, now to find a clever way to smoothly transition from a Michael Sam segment to a Jonathan Martin segment without being extremely offensive. … Nope, can’t be done.

Martin, the center of the Dolphins bullying scandal in 2013, was claimed off waivers by the Panthers on Friday after being released by the 49ers. He was set to count about $1 million against San Francisco’s cap, an amount now transfered to Carolina.

“Our goal is to build the strongest roster possible and add competition at every position,” said Carolina GM Dave Gettleman. “Jonathan brings quality experience to our offensive line, having started 32 games in his career at both tackle spots.”

The addition of Martin will not prevent the Panthers from drafting an offensive tackle with the No. 25 overall pick. OT Ereck Flowers (Miami) and OL Cameron Erving (Florida State) are both tempting prospects who could be available.

Martin, a former second-round pick, appeared in 15 games last season (nine starts) and allowed 7.5 sacks. He can play on either side of the line and is best suited for a swing tackle role at this point in his career.

And in case you were wondering, Martin’s Panthers will not play Richie Incognito’s Bills this season unless the two teams meet in the Super Bowl … and the odds of that happening are about the same as the odds of Michael Sam marrying Erin Andrews.

NFL Plans to Keep Expanding International Series

Now that the NFL is on the brink of filling the most gaping hole in its national coverage (Los Angeles), the focus has once again turned international. The league will play three more games in London in 2015 (Jets at Dolphins, Bills at Jaguars and Lions at Chiefs) and plans to expand that number to at least four games in 2016.

There are ongoing talks about moving the 2017 Pro Bowl to Brazil (the world’s fifth largest continent by population) and playing a regular season game in Germany within the next few seasons.

And the expansion won’t stop there.

“The work we’re doing now is to ask, ‘How do we accelerate the agenda in Mexico, Canada and China?'” said Mark Waller, NFL EVP, International. “Those would be our next stage, and we have offices in those three countries. And then, after those, where should be our focus? I think we’ve concluded that Brazil and Germany are the next two frontier markets, which is where the Pro Bowl idea comes from.”

The idea of permanently moving a franchise to London is still progressing, as well. Waller says the league is “absolutely” on track to have a team in London within the next seven years. The timing is great, because Ben Roethlisberger will have completed his recently signed extension by that time (and you know the London team will make a push for Big Ben even if he is 40 years old at the time).

The train has left the international station and there is no slowing it down now. After all, NFL Europe was such a big hit, I don’t see how this could possibly fail.

Want to talk more about these and other headlines? Join Michael Lombardo for his weekly NFL Chat on Friday at 2pm EST. But you don’t have to wait until then … you can ask your question now!


About Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo has spent more than 10 years as a team expert at Scout.com, primarily covering the Chargers, Cardinals and Panthers. He has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and other venues.