First, let’s address one major point: Michael Sam will only be a distraction if his organization, head coach, and teammates let him become one because of their own biases and lack of leadership. I’ve already talked to Missouri wide receivers coach Pat Washington, who coached me at the University of Tennessee, and other people close to the Mizzou family who have said that Sam is a great player and an even better person, a leader and a hard worker who just happens to be gay. If a team full of teenagers and 20-year-old kids are mature enough to handle his coming out — and they did, since Mizzou had a fantastic season — an NFL locker room full of grown men should be able to as well.
Still, because Michael Sam will likely be the first, there will be questions from his teammates and management for whatever team drafts him in May. But those questions don’t automatically become distractions. Distractions happen when the leadership in the locker room is poor and unequipped to handle internal problems, and how any team manages situations like these is the important factor. When it comes to Sam, teams will already know what they are getting, and so there are no surprise distractions. They should be equipped to handle any questions from day one, and if the team that drafts him isn’t prepared to handle those, it has bigger problems than Michael Sam’s sexuality.
Recently retired NFL wide receiver Donté Stallworth expanded upon his twitter remarks for ThinkProgress, detailing how NFL teams should – and the good team probably will – handle the attention the first openly gay player Micheal Smith might bring with him in addition to his skill set. He uses his experience in the well-.run New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens organizations as examples. Stallworth knows a thing or two about off-field ‘attention’; he was suspended by the NFL for the 2009 season after a DUI manslaughter charge.
It’s a good read if you’re into American Football, or even sports culture in general.