Michael Sam finally played his first professional football game on Friday but it wasn’t the wonderful triumph we all hoped for. Only on the field for 12 plays, he played end but didn’t make a tackle or a sack, struggling to get to the quarterback. The worst criticism of his performance was a play where he fell for a fake that wound up as a touchdown. The Alouettes wound up losing the game to the Ottawa Redblacks.
And now the news from Herb Zurkowsky of the Montreal Gazette is that Sam’s Canadian teammates aren’t all that thrilled with him. Claiming that Sam has become a distraction, Zurkowsky says that “He doesn’t play on special teams and isn’t considered competent. Privately, more and more players are criticizing the preferential treatment he has received.”
Ever since his courageous decision to come out while still a college student-athlete at Mizzou, many people have been rooting for Michael Sam to make it as the first openly gay pro football player in the NFL. We celebrated him being drafted by the St. Louis Rams as the first openly gay player; then we rallied behind him when he made the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad.
When it became clear he wasn’t going to play in the NFL, at least this season, we were excited when this past May he finally signed a two-year contract with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League (CFL). Sam still made history with the signing, becoming the first openly gay player in the CFL.
Then just a month later, a day before the Alouettes’ first preseason game, Sam was given permission by the team to leave camp for “personal reasons.” He was placed on the team’s suspended list and told that should he decide to return, he’d be welcomed back by the team.
Since no other explanation was given for his leaving, many people speculated that Sam realized he wasn’t good enough to compete in a professional league and chose to leave camp to avoid embarrassment for him and for the team. It now appears that during his two-week absence he and his fiancé Vito Cammisano called off their relationship.
It seems that much of his teammates’ anger comes from that “root of all evil” – money. According to Cork Gaines of Business Insider, after Sam returned right before the season’s start, he didn’t dress for the first five regular season games but was still kept on the active roster and received a full game check each week – a move not calculated to make his fellow players happy.
Gaines continues to say that “The anger is likely fueled at least in part by Sam’s $100,000 salary ($76,000 US). While that is peanuts compared to the NFL, that is huge in a league with a $5.0 million ($3.8 million US) salary cap where most rookies make half that, the average salary is about $80,000 ($61,000 US), and about 10 percent of players work a second job in the offseason.”
If Sam’s play on Friday had been better, some of this criticism might not be quite so harsh. But his lackluster performance brings back assessments of his college play – that he was “too small to play defensive end but not fast enough to be an NFL linebacker.”
If Sam is able to stick it out and play for his full two-year contract, the commotion will eventually die down and he’ll have a real chance to prove himself as a pro player … or not. But one thing’s for sure; he needs to show he’s a team player just like everyone else and downplay any future special treatment.
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