Michael Sam is no different from Tim Tebow. Not in the only way it matters in the most recent Michael Sam story -- the story starring Tony Dungy as the media-appointed homophobe.
First things first, know this: Michael Sam is a distraction. Maybe he doesn't want to be. Maybe he won't try to be. Doesn't matter. The media and public will make him one, and already has. Media from all over the world want this story, Oprah wants this documentary and fans want to hold up Michael Sam as everything right -- or everything wrong -- with society. Of course he's a distraction. Question is, how big does that distraction become? Big enough to affect the locker room?
Let's not be stupid. Let's not be homophobic above all else, but let's also strive not to be intellectually dishonest and say: Because we don't want Michael Sam to be a distraction, Michael Sam won't be a distraction.
What we want, and what is, are so often two different things. I don't want it to rain today because I'd like to mow my lawn. Guess what? It's raining on my lawn at this very moment.
So here's what is: Michael Sam will be a distraction because of his popularity as a gay-rights icon, and I'm saying that without fear of being labeled a homophobe -- as Tony Dungy was labeled in this story, and this one, and this one -- because I say it with no malice, just an understanding of the NFL, which decided Tim Tebow was a distraction because of his popularity as a Christian icon.
When Dungy told The Tampa Tribune he "wouldn't have taken" Sam in the 2014 NFL Draft because "things will happen," he wasn't talking like a meathead about awkward moments of full-frontal nudity in the locker room. He was talking about external pressures and excessive attention and distractions distractions distractions.
There's a reason Tim Tebow isn't in the NFL: He wasn't worth the hassle. There's a reason Chris Kluwe isn't in the NFL: He wasn't worth the hassle. And there's a reason Tony Dungy wouldn't have drafted Michael Sam: He wasn't worth the hassle. As an aside, yes, Dungy does have a history of aligning himself with groups against gay marriage, and we're allowed to weigh that history with his comments. You weigh it your way. I'll weigh it mine.
Listen, I'm hoping Michael Sam is a great NFL player. Not just a guy who makes the Rams, but a guy who starts at outside linebacker and becomes a force, a star. I'm in the story business, and that's a great story. Also I'm in the humanity business and the equality business, and that would be great for humanity and equality if Michael Sam, the first openly gay player in the NFL, kicks this league's ass. I'm saying it proudly: Michael Sam is my co-favorite favorite NFL player, though I identify "favorite player" differently than most. LeBron is my favorite NBA player. Johnny Manziel's my other co-favorite NFL player. Do I want their teams to win? Not really. Don't care. But if they're on TV, I'm watching. Because they fascinate me. So I'm a fan.
Tony Dungy doesn't sound like a fan, but he doesn't sound like a homophobe either. Not for what he said this week. He sounds like a guy who knows the business of the league at a high level, which of course he does. Where Dungy is hypocritical, if out of ignorance, is that he was openly rooting for Tebow to make an NFL roster last spring when Tebow was out of work, going so far as to say "the Lord has a good spot for you; He's going to give you the right situation."
Where Dungy is ignorant is that he presumably thinks Tebow isn't a distraction, that not enough "things will happen" to make Tebow's viability in an NFL locker room -- media attention, fan craziness -- a bad idea.
As far as distractions go, Tim Tebow is Michael Sam. And they are both Chris Kluwe, the outspoken ex-punter for the Vikings whose ability to kick the ball didn't outweigh his ability to generate mountains of off-field attention. Those mountains are a distraction, and while some distractions are worth it -- Adrian Peterson could be another Tebow, another Kluwe or another Sam and still have a job in the NFL because Adrian Peterson is worth it -- some aren't.
Tebow doesn't throw the ball well enough to be worth it. Kluwe doesn't kick the ball well enough to be worth it.
Does Michael Sam rush the passer well enough to be worth it? Tony Dungy doesn't think so, and presumably a lot of teams around the league agree, seeing how Sam was passed up by every team in the league multiple times.
Maybe this is naivety, but I didn't see homophobia at work on draft day or when Tony Dungy talked to the The Tampa Tribune. That was the business of the NFL.
And what Dungy said about Sam, the same thing I said about Sam (and Tebow) in May, is one of those truths that is so undeniable, so self-evident, it crosses political lines.