Before I get into this I want to acknowledge that Michael Sam's actions in coming out appear entirely based on wanting to live his life openly without any lies. That is hugely admirable. I applaud him for his bravery and for being a great role model for younger gay kids.
Obviously if that was all I was going to say this would be a very short article.
I think from an optimization standpoint Sam has probably extended his NFL career and opened up new revenue streams for himself by taking these steps. If I had been his agent and he had come to me with the idea, I'd have told him to go for it.
You have to understand, Sam was rated as a fourth to sixth round prospect despite having good size for being a 3-4 OLB and being the defending SEC defensive player of the year. His sexual orientation was already known by the scouts. I have to think the fact that the NFL talent evaluators already knew that Sam was gay had already hurt his stock.
Michael Sam came out to his teammates publicly last year. His teammates still really gravitated to him on the sidelines and really like him. That says a lot. It says that in addition to being a good football player, he is a cool football player! ...Who just happens to be gay.
I'll underscore it. There is little to suggest that Sam might make playing football secondary to being a gay spokesman at this point in his life. There is little to suggest Sam will actively be a media distraction for an NFL team once the initial buzz is over.
Sam may have cost himself going in the 6th round instead of the end of the 3rd or in the 4th, but that is probably a good thing for his career. The money is not hugely different, especially if Sam can play and gets a second contract. A team might expect immediate contributions from a third or fourth rounder and might cut a guy like Sam, given that players knew he was gay and there was no pressure on the players or the team to grow up and accept it. He might get cut by his first team with no other teams giving the guy a shot due to his sexuality.
A sixth round pick is a long shot. To have a guy with pretty good talent, a pretty good work ethic, who plays well and has "the cards stacked against him" due to his sexuality, does a lot of good things for Sam. Everyone likes a scrappy underdog. He will probably see some players, coaches, and staff go to bat for him that he wouldn't normally enjoy.
I think a lot of NFL teams would take a reigning SEC player of the year in the 6th round thinking he could develop for a year or two and then start. At that point there are probably more gay football players coming out and it isn't that big of a deal.
Frankly even if his first team cuts him, I have to think he will get a second shot with a team that feels he might have been frozen out by a coaching staff. The NFL owners and front office folks will likely want to ensure this kid can't play before his NFL career is over. They do not treat other players that way.
Finally, this move appears quite gutsy. This is a guy coming into a pro league, not a guy who spent his whole career in the closet and then came out after no one was offering him a job and there were absolutely no employment costs (I'm talking about you, Jason Collins). Sam likely just knocked Collins off the top of the sports media call list on gay issues. If Sam is smart, he might parlay that into a second career in sports commentary that, given what I have seen of the guy, might extend far beyond gay issues.
I think it was a smart by Sam and I like smart, out-of-the-box moves.