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There were a few local options for the column today but both were depressing. We could have focused on the sad, sad fact that the Bulls are still far, far away from competing with the Heat.
Or it could have been the now annual rundown of how bad college basketball is in Chicago and just about across the state - although my son Noah tells me Illinois State is kicking butt in the . . . 'what's that conference again?'
But for this week and hopefully this week alone, let's go national.
As it turns out, the defensive end from Mizzou has already proven he can survive/thrive both individually and as a critical cog on a great defense. Missouri exceeded expectations in an extreme way this past season, rallying from a one-win SEC campaign the year before to post a stellar 12-2 mark. And they did so after Sam told them he was gay during the preseason.
Sam himself capped off his senior season by being named the Southeastern Conference's Co-Defensive Player of the Year. The Southeastern Conference, which had claimed the previous seven national championships before the ACC's Florida State edged SEC champ Auburn last month, just about completely covers the most conservative portion of the country, by the way.
You watch highlights of his senior season and you see Sam's teammates jumping all over him after he makes big play after big play. His sexual orientation was such a big deal that . . . it didn't matter to his teammates at all. And it didn't matter at the state university in a red state.
Now, homophobes who are saying NFL locker rooms are not ready for a gay player, those are the guys who are most likely to cause the dreaded distraction. Most prominent among them is Jonathan Vilma, last seen arguing that he shouldn't face punishment for the bounty system he was a part of as a Saints linebacker several years ago.
One detail contained in reports on the large press conference held for Sam at the NFL scouting combine in Indy over the weekend was particularly telling. It was noted that a similar event had occurred last off-season. At that one, former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o addressed the media hordes after his story of an online relationship with a dying girlfriend was exposed as a fraud.
It turned out that once he arrived in the pros, drafted by San Diego in the second round, Te'o put his head down and went to work. The story petered out almost immediately and by the time Te'o was hurt midway through the season, the only thing news reports said was that a backup Charger linebacker was out with an injury.
Then there is the fact that longtime NBA center Jason Collins came out last year and last night became the first openly gay player to compete in the NBA when he played a little more than 10 minutes for the Nets in their 108-102 victory over the Lakers. Collins made his announcement in the winter of his career and he wasn't signed during the preseason nor during the first half of the current NBA campaign. But the Nets needed a veteran big man and put him on the hook for a 10-day contract.
On the football field, It is clear at this point that Michael Sam is a tweener. He played exclusively at defensive end for Missouri ,which means he played with his hand down on the ground and he rushed the passer or tried to pressure the run game upfield on every play. He is about 6-2, 255 and teams fear he isn't big enough to star at DE in the NFL. And he has no experience at linebacker.
So let's hope Sam drops from the third- or fourth-round (where some had projected him in the past month) to the fifth or sixth in May. Then perhaps the Bears (local angle!) will be able to take advantage of the possible new Moneyball-type inefficiency (teams undervaluing players because they fear a distraction) to grab a prospect who certainly isn't perfect but, oh yeah, had an awfully good season rushing the passer (11.5 sacks) in the SEC.
It will be a hell of a lot better story than local college basketball.
Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.
This is what progress looks like.Continue reading "Times Change" »
Posted on Jul 24, 2017