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Michael Sam's homosexuality is no more a distraction than a felon

by Jenni Carlson Published: February 12, 2014

These past few days have been filled with debate and discussion about Michael Sam being a distraction.

Some prognosticators have argued that there are NFL teams that will pass on the SEC Defensive Player of the Year because he has announced publicly he's gay. Some pundits have predicted that the likely media circus and the possible locker room strain that could accompany Sam might actually keep any NFL team from drafting him.

Let me get this straight — franchises that regularly welcome players who've been arrested, charged and sometimes even convicted of crimes as well as guys who've done and said things that are racist and sexist and bigoted and all kinds of unseemly will find a player's sexual orientation too much to handle?

I don't buy it.

“Distraction” sounds like a nice way of saying, “We don't want an openly gay player, but we can't say that.”

Distraction might be to homosexuality what the word thug is to race.

The latter of those two words got thrown around a lot a couple weeks ago. Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman turned a postgame, on-field interview into a verbal smackdown of San Francisco receiver Michael Crabtree, and his unsportsmanlike behavior caused lots of people to label Sherman a thug.

Sherman took issue with that term during a press conference a few days after his rant.

“The reason it bothers me is because it seems like it's an accepting way of calling somebody the N-word now,” he said. “It's like everybody else said the N-word and then they say ‘thug' and that's fine.”

Maybe thug has become an N-word substitute.

Maybe not.

But when it comes to Michael Sam being a distraction, it's hard to imagine that who someone is attracted to is any more of a distraction than a player who pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter after driving drunk and having an accident that killed a woman. Or a player who pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter after hitting and killing a male pedestrian. Or a player who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in connection with a murder. Or a player who ran a dog fighting ring in his backyard and spent nearly two years in federal prison.

Leonard Little, Donte' Stallworth, Ray Lewis and Michael Vick remained employed by NFL teams after those incidents.

And goodness knows, lawbreakers aren't the only ones who have been on the payrolls.

Last year, the Chargers actually did a deal to move up in the second round of the draft so that they could be sure to get Manti Te'o. He of the fake girlfriend hoax brought with him one of the biggest media hoards of all time, but it didn't scare off San Diego.

Then, there's Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. Both of the Miami players at the center of the bullying story that became the biggest off-field drama last season have uncertain futures. Martin left the Dolphins, and Incognito is on indefinite suspension.

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by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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