Bill Polian: All that should matter with Michael Sam is if he can help team win
Michael Sam eclipsed the Olympics.
Sam, the University of Missouri defensive end, captured the sports world's attention tonight by announcing he's gay. As a player projected to be drafted in May, Sam would become the first active, openly gay NFL player.
Sam's announcement will be viewed as a social and cultural milepost, one the NFL community expected to encounter at some point. Many are relieved the moment finally has arrived, while others are apprehensive.
"I can't say I was surprised," Bill Polian, the former Buffalo Bills general manager and Indianapolis Colts president, said tonight on ESPN. "This is something that's almost commonplace in our society, and it happened last year publicly with [NBA player] Jason Collins, and I think it was only a matter of time before someone came out or announced that they were gay in other sports."
Sam was the Southeastern Conference's defensive player of the year. He recorded 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for losses.
But he's entering uncharted territory.
In 10 days, Sam will attend the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. In addition to going through drills so his speed and power can be evaluated, NFL executives and scouts will interview him. Sam's sexuality now is on the table.
Polian, a Bills Wall of Famer, has conducted hundreds of those pre-draft interviews and shared his thoughts on how Sam will be treated.
"I think he'll be received well," Polian said. "He's a very good player. I think it's pretty clear based on evaluating him as a college player that he can help you win. The players will tell you that's the first and only rule of thumb in the NFL. If you can help the team win, you'll be welcomed as a teammate.
"Obviously, there'll be some public hurdles to cross. I think that'll be the most difficult part because this will be a media event of great magnitude. So the club is going to have to prepare for that and help the players as well as Mr. Sam get through that.
"But as a football player you'll be treated just that way, as a football player."
Polian claimed sexuality never was a consideration when he and his staff screened players. Polian was with the Bills 10 years, the Carolina Panthers four years and the Colts 15 years.
"We addressed personal concerns in the following manner: Are you married? Do you have a fiancée? Do you have any children? Are you supporting any siblings or relatives? Just to find out what his family status was," Polian said. "So I don't know if these questions would, in any way, impinge on Mr. Sam's sexual preference.
"It's not something that I have ever considered a subject for discussion in pre-draft interviews or otherwise."
But Polian never had to interview a prospect who was openly gay. What would be his approach with Sam?
"I probably would want to find out what makes him most comfortable in terms of how the organization can help him," Polian said. "That would be the only question, I think.
"I'd also want to make sure that if we were prepared to draft him -- and I think most clubs will be, just based on what I know of him as a football player -- that we help prepare the organization and the players and coaches for this media scrutiny that will take place. That will be the biggest hurdle."