Total strangers talking about Michael Sam

Michael Sam came out to the public on Sunday night. What followed was an avalanche of reactions by total strangers, all of whom felt deeply involved in the news.

There are a lot of total strangers who consider themselves involved in Michael Sam's coming out story.

The first total stranger might be THE PERSON WHO ASSUMES THIS IS ABOUT THEM. This person is most likely the one seen saying "Why is this news," a piece of code that means, "Please don't talk about your gayness around me." They surely weren't running around Facebook last year tagging your shared video of Felix Baumgartner jumping from a space balloon with the same fervor, or doing this about other news. If they were, kudos to them for consistency, and for posting "WHY IS THIS NEWS BABIES ARE BORN EVERY DAY" under the pictures of your newborn you posted last year.

This is all news, because Michael Sam is the first openly gay man to enter the NFL Draft as someone likely to be drafted, and also because being gay is still the subject of some really archaic laws still on the books in a number of these United States. "Only the media cares," says someone who clearly is protesting too much, and would love to take the opportunity to tell you at length how much they do not at all care.

Another total stranger might also be an anonymous NFL source talking about what a distraction Michael Sam and his now very public homosexuality would be for a team. Please note that when I say that the perpetual candid chatter of NFL front office people should be public, and is otherwise cowardly vomit spouted from the least spineful apparatchiks of the NFL's genuinely deformed political culture, I don't confuse them for everyone involved with the NFL.

For instance, the entire NFL scouting community knew Sam was gay, and said nothing. A number of players knew Sam was gay, and respected his privacy and said nothing. Journalists, coaches and a slew of others knew Sam was gay, and took zero issue with it. There are a lot of people surrounded by the NFL who by name and in public did and have done right by Sam, and his decision to take a step no one else at his level ever has.*

*And we should be clear on that level: Sam is a tweener DE with linebacker size, and thus merely a "good" NFL prospect by most ratings. It would be very tempting to, in service of his bravery on a personal level, make too much of his potential as an NFL player. He's good, which makes him one of the best athletes you'll ever meet, but he is not an obvious, no-look first-round draft pick, which means Pete Carroll will take him in the seventh round and turn him into an All-Pro pass rusher.

You can't even blame some draft analysts who will drop Sam due to "distraction" since they might be right for the worst imaginable reasons. The NFL Draft is so overdetermined, so overanalyzed and the topic of such scrutiny that any unique feature of a player's personality becomes a speed bump for NFL personnel to worry over repeatedly. It also helps that they can drive down a player's price by turning a detail into a sticking point in negotiations. (See the case of  "Myron Rolle is too smart for the NFL" versus "Oh my god what are you even talking about.") Analysts, if they want to reflect just how dumb some of the decision-making can be in the NFL, sort of have to follow suit.

Yet there is another kind of total stranger involved here. In the span of 20 minutes last night, the NFL issued a statement of tolerance and support of Sam and SI published anonymous quotes from GMs claiming Sam would be a distraction both in the draft and in the locker room afterwards. For them, Sam would be something the NFL was not ready for, something they assumed as the league public avowed it was ready for, and as players made statements of support on Twitter. Privately, anonymous people were "concerned."

This means one of two things. It means everyone else is lying, or that there are two camps in the NFL: the players, who largely don't care with some notable exceptions, and management. For players, there are some who really don't like the idea of a gay teammate, and among those on the record they are in the minority.

For management, Sam's story means they have to change something, a something they feel like they can only tell the truth about anonymously. Remember this: there is one man who is the first to go public with his socially contested and politically volatile status, and he is public and, in his own words, "excited" about it. In contrast, there are NFL executives so scared of making a declarative statement in public that they will not use their own names in making a negative statement about how his public homosexuality will affect his draft prospects. One might wonder, as a total stranger observing the situation, how these men slept at night for fear of waking up and seeing their own shadow cast by the morning sun.

I repeat: there are total strangers in NFL front offices who can't say what they think because they think they deserve or need the same protections afforded national security leaks. I wouldn't want to assume the worst about anyone, so please pray for these brave, threatened men of our NFL National Security Complex, and the work they do in the shadows to keep our football safe from harm, and from having to deal with a player who has sex with men. They are the true heroes here.

Finally, there is another kind of total stranger involved in Michael Sam's coming out, and how it affected them. They aren't strangers to Michael Sam mind you: they are his teammates, and his coach, and his community at Missouri. Sam has been out to his teammates since summer of 2013, and was such a distraction that the Tigers went 12-2, played for an SEC title and a spot in the national title game, and had their best season in recent history. It wasn't a universal sentiment of welcome -- Gary Pinkel himself said not everyone on the team was happy about it -- but like people who aren't total strangers do, they embraced him and got on with their business.

And you know who's about business, per a thousand layers of branding, 50 years of custom film and documentary, and repeated public pointing towards THE SHIELD? The NFL, allegedly, an organization whose boredom and mechanics may be its saving grace here. Sam will become another number with numbers. He will be processed in the draft, and spat out into the labor pool and valued accordingly.

At a distance, Sam's mere existence may seem like an earthshaking event for the faceless brave covert operatives of NFL front offices, but up close he'll be another commodity. The NFL, however, has one advantage in learning tolerance here: it already treats every player like a total stranger, all the time. The soul might have strong feelings about Michael Sam, his decision to be the first real draftable gay NFL player, and what this means for society as a whole. The NFL, though, has never had a soul to trouble, and is already moving past all this with a series of bleeps, bloops and recalculated evaluations. Another soulless venerable American trust is already setting odds on when Sam will be drafted; for the record, opening betting in Las Vegas has him going sometime in the fourth round.

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