Opinion

NFL Draft: So Michael Sam is a distraction... and Johnny Manziel isn't?

*Originally published on White Cover Magazine...

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So Michael Sam is a distraction... and Johnny Manziel isn't?

They both have last names that splatter across the back of sold-out jerseys for their respective, new NFL teams – Sam with St. Louis and Manziel with Cleveland. They're both known – both loved, really – for being themselves and for being themselves in very different ways. Both of them had their first professional moments broadcast to all of America – Manziel for nearly all of the first round, Sam for a groundbreaking second in the seventh.

But when Sam's moment came, he kissed a man. And when Manziel's came, he massaged imaginary dollar bills.

Manziel's cockiness is seen as a boon to the Cleveland Browns, a franchise without a championship and usually without confidence. But Sam's issue – he's the first openly gay player drafted into the testosterone-y, always-over-compensating-for-something National Football League, although he's not the first gay player in it – is apparently a negative. Why else would the SEC's defensive player of the year have to wait until the 249th pick to finally be selected? Was it because the Rams knew that 31 other teams wouldn't take a chance on a guy who can polish a piece of hardware nobody else earned over the past year? And why did 31 teams turn their backs on Sam? Was it because they're not sure whether his game will translate to the NFL?

If Sam's distractions aren't seen as a negative, then why are they even referred to as distractions? Because it's really so terrible for someone known for who he is to bring added attention to his team?

I wonder, was Deion Sanders and his ridiculous, over-the-top personality a distraction when he won his two Super Bowls, with Dallas and San Francisco? What about when Deion was playing baseball, as well, during the summers? A two-sport athlete dividing his time between leagues that, supposedly, demand 100% of your time all the time... that was kosher, and Sam isn't?

Charley Haley won five Super Bowls. He referred to himself as "The Last Naked Warrior" and would routinely masturbate in front of his teammates. (You read that right. And Sam kissing a dude on live TV was too gay for the NFL's viewers to handle?)

Michael Vick murdered a bunch of dogs, went to jail, then returned to the league and was signed by Philadelphia. He's now quarterbacking the New York Jets and mentoring Geno Smith, another potential first-rounder who's stock collapsed – Manziel-style – during last year's also over-televised first round.

Were these players distractions? Certainly. But what football fan with a brain wouldn't want them on his team, or her team?

Didn't their play dictate their value? And why isn't Sam – who hasn't done anything but come out of the closet, probably while Haley was again climaxing in public – afforded the same equality?

And doesn't Manziel's college resume inspire the same sort of doubt as Sam's, perhaps even more so?

Johnny Football's fall to No. 22 on the Draft's first day was seen as some sort of shocking tumble. The 2012 Heisman winner watched as another quarterback, Blake Bortles, was selected at No. 3, and the room erupted with disbelief. Us television viewers had to look at Manziel's mug every time any other player was chosen from then until three-quarters through the first round... Manziel was the star of the Draft, even though he clearly was not the star of the Draft.

Manziel is, of course, a distraction. He will be a distraction in Cleveland. He'll certainly be a distraction to Brian Hoyer.

Hoyer is the Browns' current quartberack. What was he thinking, I wonder, when Manziel was chosen... when Manziel walked on stage like Caesar, I assume, first walked into Rome... when ESPN showed Browns fans exploding into cheers, high-fiving and probably crying out of joy, like their city had just been selected to host an Olympics?

Another guy already has the job Manziel covets and, apparently, is being groomed for. Cleveland must expect Hoyer to train the guy and coax another player for the gig he's done everything to earn for himself. And they must expect every receiver, offensive lineman, and running back on that team to take a ticket in tutoring the kid.

So, Manziel is certainly a distraction. But he isn't described as a distraction, and Michael Sam is.

I heard it today while driving to work in my car, as Dave Pratt (on Vancouver's Team 1040) questioned whether or not it was worth it to take a chance on a guy like Sam. Pratt's homophobia was seeping through his baby booming pores until – it should be noted – guest analyst and former NFL punter Mitch Berger took over the interview and used reason to shut Pratt up. You heard it when Sam came out a couple months ago, too. You heard it so much that Dallas's Dale Hansen had to deliver an impassioned editorial in support of Sam on WFAA, praising the defensive star and also vilifying anyone who dared stand in his way, symbolically or physically, to the NFL.

Calling Sam a distraction, or questioning whether his talent is soured by his admission... it's a way for ignorant people – and, make no excuse, we are ALL arrogant about most things, almost everything, and certainly about whatever Sam has gone through and will go through – to discuss his announcement without feeling as if they're saying anything offensive while doing so. They don't mean to be offensive, but they still are. (Well, some of them mean to.)

When has the National Football League ever had a problem with attention? When has it ever hated cameras?

The NFL has its own network... it's called the NFL Network. The guys who started and ran NFL Films are in the Hall of Fame. HBO runs a documentary about one team every year called Hard Knocks, where players are followed and interviewed during training camp. The Super Bowl is the most-watched television event in America every year, and it ain't even close.

And you want to tell me that Michael Sam's sexual orientation is a distraction? You want to tell me that his presence in the National Football League deserves to be questioned, while Manziel sprays Cleveland with champagne and Blake Bortles, a Central Florida kid, rides in and takes over Jacksonville?

Of course you do. Because the NFL is about all brotherhood, unless you're not like them.

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