It’s been exactly a week since the NFL Draft ended, and yet still people are talking about it. However, it isn’t for the reasons you think it is. Ever since the draft ended, there have been two prospects whose names have been highlighted. One is a polarizing athlete who is expected to be the next big star for the hapless Cleveland Browns, the other is a 7th round draft pick who’s being admired for his courage for being the first openly homosexual football player.
Days after days on end, football fans have been told that Michael Sam is a hero, and that the St. Louis Rams did the right thing in using one of their picks to get him. Also, footage of his reaction to being drafted has somehow made it on TV every day this week, of him kissing his boyfriend. ESPN, NFL Network, plenty of news networks, President Obama, all of them have admired Sam for his courage. Sam is the ultimate human interest story, despite being milked to the point where there is nothing to milk, his kiss is still being shown, his courage and heroism is still being lauded, and so on.
The question that we must ask ourselves is whether or not this is actual courage, and whether or not he is a hero.
First off, let’s start off with the dictionary definitions of courage and hero.
Courage is defined as strength in the face of pain or grief. while hero is defined as a person who is admired for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.
Let me be the first to ask the question, how is Michael Sam courageous?
When he admitted his homosexuality, first to his football team, then to the media, he was embraced. lauded, and touted as courageous. People said that he overcame adversity through strength. How exactly did he do that? Unless the Missouri football team treated him poorly after he came out, unless the media bashed him for being homosexual in possibly the most testosterone injected sport in the world, I don’t see any adversity. Sure, there obviously were people against him, the Westboro Baptist Church, plenty of fundamentalist groups, and such, but those represent the lunatic fringe, not society in general. We get that his father wasn’t exactly supportive of his sexuality, and probably still isn’t, but again, this is the smallest minority. In fact, plenty of people, homosexual or not, were praising him for coming out. Even when he did his workouts prior to the draft and bombed them, there still was a great majority of people behind him, people who wanted him in the NFL. The NFL wanted him in the NFL. And when he did get drafted, people cheered, and there was talk of progress, and a great step forward in society.
I’m sorry, where’s the courage? Where’s the adversity?
Sam was practically carried to the point where he was drafted. He’d be more courageous if he was a prospect during the years that homosexuality was ridiculed. If he had been a college football player eligible for the 1998 draft and had come out sometime between the draft and the Matthew Shepard murder, then he would be courageous. The only real adversity he has endured during the period between coming out and getting drafted was the uncertainty of whether or not he was going to be drafted. However, there were those who believed that him not being drafted would have caused a backlash in the LGBT community. Former football player Wade Davis, who came out after retiring from football, said that it would have been seen as homophobic if he wasn’t drafted. Exactly who is struggling through adversity now? You have 32 teams, with 256 selections divided among them. The options are clear cut. Either draft him, be constantly praised by society for “doing what’s right” and have the media converge on your practice facility just to watch Sam to the point where it is a Tebow-like media circus, or let him become an undrafted free agent, have everyone who doesn’t know about football cry discrimination and deal with the impending PR fiasco. It comes to the point that there was a slippery slope here.
Frankly, I’m not bothered as much by that, but rather by the constant showing of Michael Sam’s kiss. Before accusing me however, at least hear me out though.
Sam has every right to kiss whom he wants, He could have kissed his mother, he could have hugged his father, he could have done whatever he wanted to do, and he did want he wanted to do by kissing his boyfriend. We saw it. Plenty of people loved it, some obviously hated it, others have no reaction. However, instead of leaving it at the one kiss, we have to see it again and again on TV for the first few days after the draft. It’s almost as if the media is forcing us to accept something that we can clearly formulate our own opinion on.
I was fine with the kiss. I saw it exactly for what it was, a kiss. However, like an english major writing a term paper on a book and rereading a passage, looking for symbolism where it shouldn’t be, the news networks felt the need to play it over and over and over to the point where it became more ingrained in my head than that annoying ear worm of a song they played during ESPN’s coverage of the draft. I had to change the channel a few times to stop seeing something I already had an opinion on.
This unfortunately is what’s wrong with media and journalism today. What was once objective and based on fact has devolved into fluff and an overabundance of human interest. It’s someone saying “People are too stupid to form their own opinion, let’s force it down their throats and make them join our side, and if they don’t like it we can label them as anti-gay.” Exactly what is being accomplished here? Are you trying to ferret out those who really don’t like the kiss by pulling a Clockwork Orange-like Ludovico technique, waiting for them to jump on social media and say “stop showing the kiss, it’s been way overplayed” so that people can accuse that person of homophobia? Is it not enough that two athletes who watched that same clip the first time voiced their displeasure and are now being ostracized for their opinion?
Moving into that, we saw the negative reactions from ordinary people, but it was the sports world that saw two really bad examples of negative reaction. Miami Dolphins cornerback Don Jones tweeted “OMG” and “horrible” after watching the kiss, and has now been slapped with a fine, been forced to undergo education training in order to be reinstated, and has had to apologize to Sam for what he tweeted. I’m not supporting Jones, but I’m fairly certain he had a right to his own opinion and if he didn’t like what he saw, he had every right to voice his displeasure. Sure, he played for the same team that last season underwent major media scrutiny because of a massive bullying scandal, but really, was Jones going to do anything after voicing his displeasure? And of course it’s a miracle that GLAAD, the anti-defamation alliance for homosexuals, hasn’t called for his head like they did with Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson after he made public his opinions on homosexual marriage.
Similarly, Mississippi basketball player Marshall Henderson posted a series of tweets condemning the Sam kiss, but cited being a subject in a psychology experiment done by his friend. Here’s the problem with Henderson, however. He was a top basketball prospect, but unfortunately his tweets incriminate him as a homophobe, psychology study or not. His draft stock has definitely taken a gigantic fall, probably to the point where he wouldn’t even be offered a tryout with an NBA team. While we will never really know if Henderson’s tweets were his own personal opinion or those for a study, it’s clear that his actions have made him a pariah.
So really, the question is whether Sam is really showing courage, or if people are laying out the red carpet for him. Here’s the thing. If Sam really was facing adversity, we’d know it. The lunatic fringe is not the majority, rather, it represents a microcosm of society. Almost widespread acceptance and adulation from the public is not adversity, and Sam is not showing courage by walking down a red carpet. People are calling Sam a role model, and he is, most definitely for LGBT people, maybe for those who support gay rights. But Sam shouldn’t have to be a role model to everyone, nor should people be forced to accept him as a role model. If there are people who want to view him as just another football player, fine, let them. If there are people who don’t want him as a role model, then they have every right to say no, and nobody should force them to say otherwise. The media should stop forcing the “openly gay football player” epithet down our throats, and let us decide whether we want to refer to him as such, or refer to him the way we want. We have a right to our own opinion, and if we want to say that Michael Sam isn’t special, then we have every right to that opinion.
Lastly, we have to ask ourselves, what about Michael Sam? If he saw what was coming forth, the reactions, the positive, the negative, the witch hunts for the homophobes, what would he say?
While I can’t speak personally for Sam, I can probably say that Sam didn’t want this type of media frenzy. At the end of the day, he’s just another football player trying to make the team. As a seventh round draft pick, he has less of a shot at making the team’s 53 man roster than a higher round pick. His homosexuality is not going to be used as a means to advance his career. I can’t possibly imagine coach Jeff Fisher going over a roster and saying, “Michael’s going to make the team because he’s gay”. If Fisher wants Sam on his team, he’s going to award the spot to him because of his ability and his performance in training camp, not because of Sam’s sexual preference. And if Sam is cut, it isn’t because he’s gay, it’s because he didn’t do well in training camp. This is obviously going to present the biggest problem, because Sam is literally a moneymaker right now. He already is going to be doing a series on his experience as a football player, produced by Oprah, no less, and his jersey is currently the second best selling jersey among rookies on NFL.com’s shop. Cutting him will send the wrong message, not only to those who view him as a barrier breaker, but those who were impulsive enough to by the jersey before figuring out if Sam made the team. Again, I point out. if he doesn’t make it, it’s nothing on his sexual preferences, the team isn’t discriminating against him and Fisher isn’t a homophobe, and honestly, the consumers are the real idiots because they felt the need to show their solidarity by putting an investment into a 7th round draft pick’s jersey.
So in conclusion, Michael Sam is a human interest story, but in no way did he overcome adversity, or is courageous. It is the media, and society who has made him to be a hero when in truth, he is another football player looking to make an impression through his play. Let Michael be who he is, but don’t put him on a pedestal quite yet. Being gay doesn’t necessarily qualify you as a hero, and to be completely honest, nobody should be a hero simply by stating their sexual preference. I wish Sam the best of luck as a football player, but I hope that he knows that his sexual preference does not serve as an advancer on his career.
Any Jets fan or reporter who expected second year general manager John Idzik to pounce in free agency has been left sorely disappointed, irritated, or at the very worst, calling for his head. It’s been a little over a week since the real offseason began and so far the only notable moves that the Jets have made have been losing valuable right tackle Austin Howard to the Oakland Raiders, replacing him with Super Bowl starter Breno Giacomini, signing former Peyton Manning target Eric Decker to a team friendly contract over five years, and cutting embattled wide receiver Santonio Holmes and cornerback Antonio Cromartie.
Idzik has left the team with a Cromartie sized hole at cornerback, a need for another target for second year quarterback Geno Smith, and enough questions to make a game out of figuring what the team’s offseason strategy is.
In an offseason rife with talent at any position other than quarterback, Idzik has repeatedly lost out on cornerback options in free agency. First to go was arguably the best cornerback on the market Alterraun Verner, who left Tennessee for Tampa Bay, followed by Vontae Davis, who returned to Indianapolis, then Darrelle Revis, who ended up being the Golden Goose of Free Agency, who was cut by Tampa Bay then signed by the Jets’ most bitter rival, the New England Patriots. On Sunday, after negotiations with former Broncos cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the sixth year cornerback ended up signing with the New York Giants. Details came out that Idzik wanted Cromartie to prove himself after having a decent year in Denver after two miserable ones in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, the Giants ended up giving Cromartie exactly what he wanted, a 5 year deal worth a little less than $8 million a year. In terms of a contract, that’s top flight cornerback money, and DoRoCro is certainly not a top level corner.
Going back to Idzik though. his actions, or rather, inaction, has led to several theories: that he’s a stubborn negotiator who refuses to find a middle ground, (ostensibly true, given his handling of the Howard situation), that he’s more concerned with building the team through the draft, (also true, given that he’s already attended Texas Tech and Louisville’s pro days to scout tight end Jace Amaro and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater rather than meeting personally with former top target Emmanuel Sanders) or that he’s deliberately sabotaging Rex Ryan so that he can blow up the team and remake it the way he wants it (although there’s no credence to that theory, the way that he handled Ryan’s coaching staff indicates that he’s still smarting over having to deal with someone whom he didn’t hire).
What disgruntled fans, columnists like Manish Mehta and Rich Cimini, and agents fail to realize is that there’s more to the offseason than free agency. There’s no such thing as an open-book general manager; if there was, then all his targets would be gone. Idzik is fiscally conservative. In a salary cap driven league, that may not be a bad thing. He’s not going to throw money at just anyone because that player can temporarily fill a need. While admittedly upset at losing Revis to New England, I get why he didn’t sign him. Revis may be a top flight cornerback, but really, is a corner worth $12 million a year? In addition, Revis established his status as a greedy money grubbing mercenary when he held out of camp in 2010, and cemented it when he signed a 1 year deal for $12 million with the Patriots.
Idzik knows that prices for players do drive up when rookie contracts expire. Look at Colin Kaepernick. He’s only been playing for three years and already he wants $18 million a year. This is for a quarterback who, while he did make the Super Bowl in his first year as a starter, is in no way elite quite yet.
Another realization is that Idzik’s strategy has paid off. The Seattle Seahawks won the Superbowl with a roster built almost entirely out of players acquired in the draft. Richard Sherman was an Idzik pick. Russell Wilson was an Idzik pick. Golden Tate was an Idzik pick.
What Idzik does need to realize is that he’s not in Seattle anymore. Seattle is more calm and reserved when it comes to dealing with football outside the season. New York, on the other hand, is a hyper frenzied media market. Every move is watched, every player is overanalyzed. Fans don’t know the meaning of patience. Rex Ryan and Woody Johnson, both imported products of the New York way, aren’t patient. However, is it necessarily a bad thing to wait? Is waiting until the draft a crime?
Idzik prove many doubters wrong with his first draft. He found Revis’ replacement in Dee Milliner, reaped the immediate benefits of the deal as well by getting future Defensive Rookie of the Year Sheldon Richardson, a pick, mind you, that Jets fans booed (although Jets fans will boo practically any pick), and patiently waited and picked up a viable, if slightly shaky option at quarterback in Geno Smith at #39. In addition, Idzik completely revamped the running game by trading for Saints running back Chris Ivory. Prior to the deal, many fans wanted Idzik to pick up a running back, like Alabama’s Eddie Lacy or UNC’s Gio Bernard.
Although Idzik’s strategy may wear thin the patience of fans who were expecting the team to actually do something in free agency, perhaps he’s biding his time and hoping that his magnum opus is in this year’s draft.
The Jets do have up to 12 picks this year after the purge of 2013. Up to 5 of those picks are protected thanks to the compensatory rules. There’s actually a good chance that one of those picks ends up being the prized end of the third round selection. In addition, the Jets have two fourth round picks, and history has shown that the fourth round has been one of the Jets’ best rounds, see Jerricho Cotchery, Kerry Rhodes, Leon Washington, Brad Smith, and Bilal Powell for reference.
Idzik may be using one or two of the picks that he has to strike a deal for a cornerback. While he won’t be getting a Sherman, he may be going after someone who’s dependable, like a Brandon Flowers or a Byron Maxwell. It’s not like he’s going to pull a St. Louis and stash all his picks.
Idzik also knows a late round talent when he sees one. Seattle’s defensive backfield was constructed practically out of late round picks, save for Earl Thomas. Maybe he’s scouting late round cornerbacks who fit the Ryan system.
Look, I get it. The Jets defied expectations last year. They finished 8-8 while perched precariously near the salary cap without an established franchise star or a legitimate receiving corps. They’re off the hook for $27 million. The obvious thing to do is to pounce in the Free Agent market. But here’s the thing. Idzik isn’t an obvious person. He’s biding his time and obviously planning to strike when he feels comfortable. Idzik’s a draft man, just like Mike Tannenbaum was a free agent man before him.
Idzik knows what he’s doing, that he’s got plenty of time. Jerry Reese, the GM of the Giants knows that his time is coming, which is why he’s been making moves like offering 5 years to a cornerback who really isn’t worth the money. Reggie McKenzie of Oakland is also making desperation moves because he knows another 4-12 season will likely mean that he’ll be out of a job. Bill Belichick is making moves because he wants to capitalize on whatever time he has left with Tom Brady, especially after seeing him at his worst last year. And John Elway knows that Peyton Manning is one bone crushing sack away from calling it a career.
There’s a saying in football which could be rephrased for most professional sports (the NBA excluded) that says that you don’t win a championship by winning free agency. Who won free agency last year? And what happened to them that season?
Fans often act spoiled and entitled. We saw it in Sunday’s episode of Family Guy, although in that case, it wasn’t Peter and his buddies crying about the Patriots not making moves in free agency, rather it was the team’s inability to win because of divine intervention. (Frankly, the thought that the Patriots could actually suck with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick still playing is actually intriguing.) In fact, Peter put it on the mark with this quote.
These are good drunk people who work hard to get absolutely nowhere in life. There are 3 million fisherman and only 7 fish left in the sea. But they live to watch football. Many of them on Zenith or Sylvania televisions.
Okay, there’s an obvious exaggeration there and the context is different, but that’s the point. Fans feel that they know what their team needs, and it’s not just the generality of a position, they feel that they know which players their team needs and how much money they should spend, and when things don’t go their way, they whine and call for people’s heads. In truth, what does a blue collar worker know about the inner workings of a football team? What does a news writer know about cap room and how to use it other than how much there is? What does an unemployed deadbeat, a product liability attorney, or a student at a college living on their parents’ dole know about how football, the business works? They think they know football, but what they know is the on field product, like knowing what a Lamborghini looks like. They don’t know what parts go into a car unless they specialize in that field, or dabble in it as a hobby. If a fan wants to get into the business of football, they need to learn about the business of football. That’s why colleges offer sports management courses nowadays. If fans ran a team, they’d run it to the ground. They’d have no concept of what cap is, and how to manage it. They’d know next to nil about player values. In truth, unless they did the actual research into what it takes to run a team, they’d play it like they would their fantasy team. A fantasy team and an actual NFL team are two entirely different things. In fantasy, unless you invested a ton of money in it, you can make moves without consequence, and in all likelihood, your team is full of stars. In pro football, you can’t afford it unless you manage your money wisely. So again, unless you actually know about how football, the business is run, it’s advisable that you stop yelling for your GM’s head.
So yes, while Idzik may be annoying a lot of people with his supposed glacial pace in free agency, we can’t pass judgement on him until the offseason ends. There’s months to go before the first preseason game, and free agency obviously isn’t over yet. So don’t panic and don’t yell for his head. Good things come to those who wait.