I was inspired to comment on this story as so many in the Twitter-verse are either commenting that Michael Sam got cut because he’s gay or they’re saying “I told you so bro, he’s just not good enough to play in the NFL.” Both statements are wrong.
The Rams drafted Michael Sam because they saw him as the best player on the board in the 7th round, but they were also pretty well stacked at the defensive end position. They’re paying their top three defensive ends Chris Long, William Hayes and Robert Quinn about $18 million combined this season, so what they were looking for was a low cost option for their 9th defensive lineman spot. The Rams have arguably the best defensive line in the NFL, so Sam had an uphill battle from the day he signed with the team.
During camp Michael Sam did very well, but he was outplayed by the surprise of the NFL preseason in Ethan Westbrooks and there just wasn’t enough room on the Rams roster. Westbrooks registered one sack, three QB hits and five hurries, which helped him grade out as Pro Football Focus’ #1 4-3 defensive end this preseason. Michael Sam’s biggest highlight this preseason was sacking the other main storyline of the preseason, Johnny Football and by all accounts, Sam had a great camp on top of his play in the games.
One thing I want to communicate in this article is that this is how the business of football works. For the last decade, I’ve been watching NFL special teamer Blake Costanzo bounce around from team-to-team living out his NFL dreams. I took special interest in his story because he graduated from Ramapo High School six years before I did and since that time he’s become a friend.
Blake was an undrafted free agent out of Lafayette College, he spent a couple years bouncing between the NFL Europe’s Reign Fire and NFL training camps. He was cut three times at the beginning of his career before he became an All-Pro caliber special teams player during his 2011 season with the San Francisco 49ers. Unfortunately, he’s currently recovering from a knee injury, but he’ll be ready to go for the 2015 season.
Another local standout from Don Bosco Prep, Justin Trattou, was an undrafted free agent out of Florida. He signed with the New York Giants and bounced between the practice squad and the 53-man roster all during the 2011 season and even got himself a Super Bowl ring. He suffered an ankle injury during training camp in 2012 and was placed on the Giants injured reserve. Justin resigned in March of last year, but found himself as the odd-man out when the Giants needed running back help during that losing streak that started their season.
Two weeks after being waived by the Giants, Justin signed with the Vikings and was then waived and resigned one more time by the Vikings last season as they needed to make some roster moves.
This August, Justin has had a great training camp, but again finds himself on the outside looking in (UPDATE: He has since been added back to the Vikings practice squad). Just yesterday, I was talking to his personal trainer Mike Guadango from DeFranco’s Gym, we were all commenting on how good he looked on film and how good he looked physically leaving for camp this year.
Justin has a great attitude of controlling what he can control as seen by this comment with the West Central Tribune:
“It’s a business,” said Trattou, who majored in sports management. “Sometimes you can play your best and do well enough and sometimes it’s still not good enough. For another team, it might be. I just focus on what I have to do personally and not worry about anything else.”
Michael Sam has the same attitude as he tweeted out:
“I want to thank the entire Rams organization and the city of St. Louis for giving me this tremendous opportunity and allowing me to show I can play at this level. I look forward to continuing to build on the progress I made here toward a long and successful career. The most worthwhile things in life rarely come easy this is a lesson I’ve always known. The journey continues.”
Up in Buffalo, another DeFranco’s Gym guy, an undrafted free agent named Chris Hogan is settling himself into an increased role as a wide receiver and special teamer. The rest of the league is about to see what we’ve known for four years now, Chris Hogan is one of the most athletic wide receivers in the NFL, I’m predicting right now that he’s going to have a Miles Austin-type breakout game this year.
Chris spent his first two years in the NFL bouncing between the San Francisco 49ers, the New York Giants and the Miami Dolphins before finding a home in Buffalo. He has since learned, matured, and grown into the role he finds himself in now.
Like I said in the article about an NFL D-League, this is the toughest time of the year seeing so many guys get cut, but it’s also the time when an agent has to get to work. It’s up to you to find the best opportunity for your client to succeed. It’s now time for Michael Sam’s agent to go out and find him the next opportunity and I’m sure he will.
ESPN Stats & Info tweeted that between 1994 and 2013, only 47% of 7th-round picks made Week 1 rosters, so the situation Sam finds himself in is to be expected. It’s all about where he goes from here, like the old cliché, it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. I look forward to seeing where Sam goes from here, he’s gotten a course in playing in the NFL, it’s now time for him to get bigger, stronger, faster, work on his weaknesses, and just keep getting better one day at a time.
It takes a special individual to lead the lives these guys lead, it takes someone with the ability to keep the faith and continue towards their goals in the face of a lot of adversity. Meanwhile, the Twitter-verse making fun of them for getting cut from the NFL saying stuff like, “so and so just isn’t good enough,” when it’s so much more complex than that. The amount of high-quality, mentally tough individuals I’ve been around during my time around this game is inspiring, guys willing to do whatever it takes to make their dreams a reality. That’s the kind of stuff that gets you fired up in the morning.
And I, of course, want to make one more statement to close this out…
Our society, by and large, has improved so drastically over the last fifty years. Martin Luther King made his “I Have a Dream Speech,” 51 years ago this week, and we’re in the middle of the second term of a black president. Whether you agree with his politics or not, it’s still a cool demonstration of our societal progress. Some of the richest people in the world are black, Jay-Z and Oprah should be a quintessential part of any entrepreneur’s education.
Over the last two years, we have seen an NBA player come out of the closet in Jason Collins, an NFL player in Sam, as well as former NFL players. This spring at Villanova’s Sports Law Symposium, I watched Collins’ agent, Arn Tellem break down crying as he discussed the courage it took for his client to come out.
In Sam’s case, something that really impressed and inspired me, was the way that Missouri and then the St. Louis Rams’ handled Sam’s situation. Last fall, the Missouri coaches divided the players into small groups for a team-building exercise. While some teammates just discussed their hometown or their family, Sam came out of the closet to his teammates. So for about 6 months before Sam made it public, every single person in that Missouri football family kept it quiet, that’s a brotherhood.
As a college football player, I saw the way a good team comes together as a family to strive towards a common goal, people from all different kinds of backgrounds come together to strive for a common goal. Our 2010 Rhode Island football team went 5-6 and 4-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association, we beat national ranked powerhouses like New Hampshire, Villanova, and UMass, and we did it because our team was a family.
I say all this because we can all learn something from the Michael Sam story. Wade Davis, the former NFL defensive back who has recently come out, stated that Rams coach Jeff Fisher called him up very soon after signing Sam to have him speak with the guys. Davis was happy to see a receptive audience with the Rams players, their first question was “how do we make Michael Sam comfortable here?”
The Michael Sam story, football itself, is a beautiful example of people of different backgrounds coming together for a common goal and it’s something that our country needs to learn from. While the media blows up stories about racial division like Ferguson or we’re talking about the divisive politics on display in Washington DC, we’re missing out on all the positive news.
Every single day people from all backgrounds come together in locker rooms across the country to work towards their dreams. College football teams are filled with players of every color, religion, ethnic background, socio-economic situation and sexual orientation, but every fall these teams figure out a way to get along and become a family. There’s not a coach in this country who cares what your skin color is when he’s recruiting you and as the Rams showed us, the NFL doesn’t care who you love either.
Michael Sam already has one victory, but the rest of us football fans have a victory as well, we’ve shown the country how to treat people. This is how a country is supposed to behave, treat others like you want to be treated, give them the freedom to live their life as they so choose, that’s America. Seriously, that’s what the Constitution’s all about, I’ll take care of myself, my family and my responsibilities, you do the same and we’ll be fine. Our Founding Fathers were hemp farmers…God bless America indeed.
Now, my next article will be touching on Josh Gordon’s year long suspension over smoking marijuana. This is all going on while the NFL is in the middle of a lawsuit with about 1300 former players over illegally providing painkillers to mask serious injuries. This is the next social issue our society needs to address and I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you and reading your comments as well.
Sorry for the delay on the next segment of the NFL Agent series I’m doing, but I’ve been a little lazy this week as I’m waiting for my new computer to come in the mail. This computer takes about 30 seconds to load anything, so now that I see the light at the end of the tunnel with that new computer being only days away, I can’t stand the delay.
P.S. If you want to see someone who’s freaking out about the Michael Sam news today, check out @EdgeOfSports on twitter.
Apparently the NFL is full of hateful bigots, I, personally, just haven’t met any of them yet.