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Bills should get over any 'distraction' Michael Sam might bring and give him a chance

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Three players in the NFL had more sacks than Michael Sam this preseason.

For that reason alone, it's hard to believe he remains unemployed in a league that's constantly looking for players with ability to rush the passer. His performance this preseason with the St. Louis Rams -- who cut him Saturday -- would seem to make him worthy of at least a spot on some team's practice squad.

But that hasn't happened yet for Sam, who is attempting to become the first openly gay player on an active NFL roster.

Late Sunday night, Bills center Eric Wood weighed in on Twitter with why he thinks that's the case in a response to a question posed by Ross Tucker, a former Buffalo offensive lineman who is now an analyst for NBC Sports Network and SiriusXM NFL Radio.

Ah, yes, the dreaded "distraction." Earlier this year, Drew Magary wrote a brilliant column for Deadspin (warning: link contains NSFW language) that lays out all the reasons why this idea is horribly flawed. A sampling: "All the neurotic talk about 'distractions' reveals a funny thing about the locker room. It's as if the psyche of a football team is some impossibly delicate thing that cracks the second the outside world sneaks in."

Would adding Sam to the practice squad temporarily bring some extra news cameras to practice? Absolutely.

What he's attempting to do is nothing short of historic. But a few weeks would go by, and the story would fade. Sam would become just another practice squad player.

And even if it didn't, or if he made the active roster and the national media again descended on One Bills Drive, would those few extra TV cameras and questions from reporters be some great hindrance to what the team is trying to accomplish in 2014? Hardly.

The Bills have gone 28-52 in the five years Wood has been with the team -- without a distraction to be found.

Perhaps it's unfair to single Wood out. At least he's admitting to the terrible groupthink that permeates the NFL. The Bills are just one of 32 NFL teams seemingly worried about the "distraction" of Sam's presence.

But, for once, it would be nice to see the team actually think outside the box on something. When Russ Brandon took over as president on New Year's Day 2013, he spoke of it being a "new era."

"It is time to start, create and lead this franchise into the future with a new legacy," Brandon said at the time. "I can promise you that this will be a forward-thinking, progressive and attacking organization heading into the future."

Since that time, how many decisions have fit that criteria? The trade up for Sammy Watkins in the draft at the expense of a 2015 first-round draft pick probably qualifies. Anything else?

Bucking the trend and getting over any fear of the mysterious "distractions" signing a player like Sam might bring would be a step in that direction.

For a team that's been sued by its cheerleaders and fans this offseason, seen its star defensive tackle arrested twice and another one get busted for DWI after police saw him puking out of the driver's-side door, signing Sam to the practice squad might even bring with it a positive public relations boost.

A welcome "distraction," if you will.

But that would be secondary.

His play on the field this preseason has shown Sam is worthy of a job. The Bills currently have two defensive ends on their practice squad -- Ike Igbinosun and Bryan Johnson -- who combined for four tackles and one sack this preseason.

To this point, Johnson's most noteworthy moment in a Bills uniform came late in training camp, when he was in the middle of a brawl with Wood, during which the center screamed "I'll f------ kill you!" at the rookie.

Now that, to me, sounds like a distraction.

  • FC524

    I have to say, I disagree with the author's minimizing of the "distraction" factor. The issue won't just go away. People, to this day, still clamor for teams to sign Tebow as a backup QB despite showing he can barely throw. An issue as polarizing as one's sexuality can, in my opinion, actually divide a locker room due to the deeply held beliefs people have. From a purely football perspective, I wouldn't mind Sam getting a shot with the Bills, but I have to agree with Wood. It could ruin the team's cohesion.

    • Lloyd M. Jr.

      At least Tebow has some accomplishments to go with his record; Sam has yet to show any kind of established performance in a real NFL game.

  • repomania

    Russ Brandon= joke.

    • Datdude

      repomania=troll=minimum wage job=bitterness....

      • repomania

        lol. Yea that's it. Hey look, it's another "mediocre is ok" Bills fan as long as we have a team.

        Sounds about right. Keep setting your goals and standards low so you achieve them and feel successful.

        Brandons track record is awful.

      • Lloyd M. Jr.

        Datdude = the one of whom it is said, "Nobody likes DAT dude!"

  • Cannibal King

    If he was capable, there would be no distraction. Focus on his ability, not his orientation, and you find a not ready for prime time player. His preseason sacks were in mop up duty, he got steamrolled against run blocking and couldn't shed blockers or catch up to the speed on special teams. Maybe there's enough to give him a look on a practice squad, but with no NFL ability to play OLB, stop the run or play special teams, he's just not going to be a roster player. Offenses kill one trick rushing ponies. After a few years of refinement, maybe there's more to offer... yet to be determined.

    • Rick

      He's gay Aaron Maybin.

      • Paul Kawalerski

        Wow - Let's sign him up! Then we can read more of Jay's columns explaining why Sam is not getting his share of playing time.

    • Rollo Tomassi

      Agreed

      If he can play,sign him.

      If he can't, next.

  • Caligator

    What happens on the field stays on the field Jay!!! Were you actually there Jay or did someone tell you what was said? I will never read your garbage again.

  • George Winston III

    This author must be the dumbest sports writer in the country. The Bills D line is so talented, Landon Cohen, who was the brightest star in the second half of last week's game, was cut. If Landon Cohen could not land a rooster spot, how in the world could a marginal player trying to break into the game move ahead of him? Is Skurski suggesting Sam be given a rooster spot because he is gay? Sam should be judged solely on his football ability, not his personal preferences. That being said, it does appear NFL teams want to avoid the Tim Tebow effect which draws unwanted media attention. I do agree with Eric Wood's comment about ESPN not helping Sam's case, except I would expand that to include SI, Fox Sports, the Bleacher Report and others as well. Sorry folks, it is a tough road to hoe to land a defensive lineman spot on the Buffalo Bills this year, they just have too much talent.

    • WeAreTheNormal

      It's funny how you called Jay Skurski "the dumbest sports writer in the country," and yet you wrote "rooster" instead of "roster" not once but twice.

      Perhaps you shouldn't resort to name calling when your intelligence, too, comes into question.

      • Polish Prince

        George wrote a thoughtful post in my view.

        And you have a screen name that is missing 3 spaces....look in the mirror before you question one's intelligence.

        By the way, Skurski's column was dumb, ...the Bills need quality QB's. But you are free to put Michael Sam on your Fantasy team..

        • TomFromNT

          So if they sign Sam to the practice squad they can't sign a QB

          Huh?

          • Polish Prince

            There are cash limits on every team...

            and what is your obsession with a 7th round pick who already got cut from one NFL roster?

        • billsox82

          Adding Sam=not being concerned about QB situation? Ok...logic at it's finest.

          • Lloyd M. Jr.

            It is indeed logic; no qualifiers needed.

          • Polish Prince

            Feel free to put Sam on your fantasy team...but the Bills don't need him.

        • WeAreTheNormal

          Many people do that with screen names, but I wouldn't expect you to understand such nuances.

        • WHAT?

          No, it's not. There is a serious shortage of edge speed on the Bills roster, something they have admitted to.

    • TomFromNT

      Except Skurski said to put him on the practice squad. So you are not comparing things that are equal at all..

  • Siff

    Disappointing, Eric. Just shut up and play football - and play it much better than you've shown, because you've been awful.

    • Phantom17

      Not clear to me whether Woods' tweet was just answering the question or endorsing the diagnosis. Ask me what's contributing to EJ's troubles and I might suggest that young quarterbacks are declared busts more quickly in the current NFL environment than they once were. That doesn't mean I'm saying that's a good thing or a bad thing ... just a thing that's true now that affects how people judge EJ, and maybe (given the way things are these days) I agree it's time to fish or cut bait on him. That all wouldn't be evident from my first comment ...

  • Sand Ripper

    Never mind that Sam got all his sacks playing against third and fourth-stringers.

  • Paul Kawalerski

    Jay - You come out and publicly declare your the 1st openly gay player and then put on a display with your lover in front of the cameras, then you wonder why a distraction may cost you a job. On top of that, despite his sacks against 2nd and 3rd stringers, he's not that good, he doesn't play Special Teams, is limited to a 4-3 scheme, and doesn't like to shower with his teammates. This could become a problem. But, despite all those obvious problems you suggest the Bills pick him up??? This just demonstrates your lack of football sense. Perhaps social media is more your thing.

    • TomFromNT

      Oh noes!!!! he kissed his boyfriend!!!!

      There are way too many people missing the point.

      • Polish Prince

        Paul made a fair point.

        Discretion matters. NFL teams want cohesion, not distractions.

        I have nothing against Gay people, and two men kissing may be fine in Allentown, on Broadway or thousands of other places...but it won't work in an NFL locker room. That is just the way it is.

        If Sam can play at the NFL level, his teammates will accept him. But he has to adapt to the NFL locker room culture too, as he apparently did in college

        • TomFromNT

          I really doubt he is kissing his boyfriend in the lockerroom. I have not heard anything about that.

          • Polish Prince

            No, but future teammates saw the video ad nauseum on ESPN....they remember.

            Sam should have "high fived" his partner.

        • TomFromNT

          And, furthermore, is Dareus getting arrested twice any less of a distraction?

          • Polish Prince

            Proven NFL Pro Bowlers always get some slack....and the arrest didn't bother the Bills teammates...unless you read something that I didn't read.

          • WHAT?

            Umm...? Proven? Dareus has at times bordered on bust. He is playing way below his potential.

          • Chuck Mcfayden

            Tom it comes down to talent dareus is a star player with the talent to help the bills win sam is not i would like to have cohen come back before we sign a guy who was beat out by a free agent

          • BuffaloFan4Life

            No, Dareus's transgressions are actually much worse of a distraction. Now that you mention it, when exactly is the Commissioner going to let Mr. Dareus and Bills Nation know how many games he will be suspended, if any?

            But really Tom, you can't be serious comparing Sam to Dareus, can you? The Bills big idiot may be brainless off the field (although hopefully he's growing up), but he has already been named a Pro Bowl DT on the field, while Sam hasn't even earned a place on any NFL team's roster yet.

      • BuffaloFan4Life

        So what exactly is the point that we are missing Tom? None of us care that he's gay, or that he kisses his boyfriend every time a camera is within 5 miles of the two of them. Our point is simply that he was not good enough to make the St. Louis Rams, the team that geographically had the most to gain by him making the 53 man roster. Or at the very least being added to their practice squad. Why don't you get on the St. Louis Post Dispatch blogs and rip the Rams for cutting the guy, and just leave the Buffalo Bills out of this insanity??

  • Jan Reimers

    I truly believe that the decision to add Sam to our Practice Squad should have nothing to do with the distraction factor or his openly gay status, but on his ability to play in the NFL and to help our team.

    • randyJ23

      And that is exactly what is happening - which is why he is not on the team. He just isn't that great.

  • Datdude

    And those guys deserve to be cut so you can have a story? I'm tired of the liberal media relentlessly imposing their views on morality upon readers. I'm also tired of our troll BN media referencing the Bills record over the past decade as reason for the team to just do whatever willy nilly move they want done. As if the season doesn't matter because its the Bills. Go to hell with your liberal viewpoints. We're Bills fans, not fans of "stories". If you don't like it, go work for espn as an intern.

    • TomFromNT

      None of that made any sense whatsoever.

      Liberal viewpoints? WTH are you talking about?

      • repomania

        Seriously. Liberal viewpoints because he writes a sorry about a gay player?

        • davidsorrento

          Hi is right. There were about 600 players cut & the only one that makes the news is Sam. I'm sure there are quite a few interesting stories about the rest of them.

        • BuffaloFan4Life

          Well.....yes. When the story about the gay player is written despite the fact that the gay player was nothing more then a 7th round draft choice that got cut. Other then the fact that Michael Sam is in fact gay, why on earth would that even be a "story" in the first place??

    • ptato22

      Why is that a liberal viewpoint? Maybe Skurski is bored with nothing to write about. As for liberal news bias, ESPN and the NFL are incredibly conservative as is Foxsports. Fox News is the bastion of conservatism. You can complain all you want about BN, Skursky or whomever, but let's not look for places to get up on a soapbox to get political.

      • BuffaloFan4Life

        No, but the vast majority of conservatives would accept the fact that Michael Sam is simply not talented enough to take up a valuable spot on some team's practice squad. The liberals are the ones with tears streaming down their faces cheering as Sam kissed his boyfriend yet again at the ESPY's, and accepted his award for......I'm sorry ptato, I still have no idea what ESPN awared Sam for, perhaps you can enlighten me??

        • ptato22

          I'm afraid I'm not even sure what you're talking about. Don't watch much TV and I live in Australia and don't get ESPN TV. I have no interest in watching M Sam kiss his boyfriend and don't understand why being forced to do so would make liberals teary-eyed (I'm sure I would just turn the channel if I was unlucky enough to witness it). Equal rights for homosexuals, however, is just one little issue in the wide gamut of problems facing the world and separating Liberals from Conservatives. Most people don't fit nicely into little packages labelled L or C and have widely varying viewpoints depending on the particular issue. Why does the discussion about Sam as a possible football player (we can argue about weather he's any good or not) have you somehow hinting that those who think he deserves a chance are actually just thrilled at his sexual orientation? You've missed the point: we want to stop talking about that crap altogether - or at least I do.

          • BuffaloFan4Life

            Well if you don't even watch ESPN, then how do you know it's conservative? (which of course it is not.) The "ESPY Awards" are an annual award show hosted and produced by ESPN to hand out special awards to pro and amatuer athletes. Sam and his boyfried were there of course, and ESPN saw fit to give Sam an award, I suppose for his "courage" to come out first in the NFL. Since you seem to be defending Sam on this blog, I thought I'd get your opinon on Sam "earning" his ESPY award.

          • ptato22

            I don't care one way or the other about Sam - I just don't like people labeling others as liberals when they simply disagree with their point of view. I think Skursky is wrong in his view that Sam is worth a tryout - I've stated that I like Cohen and anyway really never saw Sam play. However, Skursky gave his reasons (foolhardy as they were) and it doesn't seem that he's just being a bleeding heart or looking to promote gay awareness. As for ESPN, I watch their videos online (although many of them are not available in Australia annoyingly) and remember them of course from when I lived in the States many years ago. I thought they were conservative in their views, but I'm happy to concede they're not if you say so. I'm grateful not to have had the misfortune of watching the ESPY awards.

  • Polish Prince

    The Bills need more quality at the QB position than at the D-Line position..

  • PG

    There is nothing "non-distracting" about having ESPN at every practice talking about who Michael Sam will or will not shower with, or whether or not the Bills are giving him a fair shot to get off of the practice squad, etc. The point you're missing is that there are so many mid-to-low level players out there that there is no point in selecting one who brings baggage with him. Not to mention, as has bee pointed out here already, the Bills don't have an immediate need at that position. I think we're all getting tired of the "put the guy on your roster so that you can be pioneers and make a statement" articles. We get it. We just don't need it.

    • TomFromNT

      They actually do need depth at edge pass rusher. So putting him on the practice squad might not be a bad idea. And I really doubt they will be at every practice. Will they show up for the first one? Sure. And then they will move onto the next story about Johnny Football drinking a beer or LeBron breaking wind.

      Put him on the practice squad because he likely has a higher ceiling than the two DE's they have on it now. And if they can make a statement at the same time, that is not a negative.

      • PG

        31 other teams...many of them with much worse situations at the DE position than ours don't see the value in adding Michael Sam to their practice squad. Distractions aside, he's just not that good of a player. It was proven at the draft and it's being proven now. I don't know why people automatically assume that it has to be discriminatory. ESPN may or may not be there every day, but there's no sense wasting time on a guy who just isn't any different than 60 other DE wannabe's. People want this to strictly be a football decision? Fine. Hes not good enough at football. Let's move on.

        • Lloyd M. Jr.

          Just to let you know... the Cowboys put him on their practice squad.

          • PG

            Yep...so? They have a need. They're defense is their weak link. This is how practice squads are built. They're making a football decision. He's been signed. He's not being discriminated against. Life, as we know it is now in balance. Maybe this fascination with the "Michael Sam watch" can finally go away and we can focus on, gee, I don't know...football?

      • BuffaloFan4Life

        And what exactly would this "statement" be, Tom? "We had two DE's working with us for the entire summer, that we brought back and deemed worthy of our practice squad. However, we are now cutting one of them so we can be the second NFL team to bring in the first openly gay football player at DE. Any questions?"

  • Greg

    Jeff Fisher cut 20 players the other day, Sam was only one of them. I bumped into the press conference, and I didn't hear a question that wasn't about Sam. Since no other team has picked him up from waivers, perhaps signing at best a marginal NFL talent and put up with the media circus isn't popular with NFL teams.

  • El Elegante

    Why does this guy get so much attention? Who cares if if he is gay? Supposed to be everyone is equal right? Tolerance of gay folks etc. He was drafted, was public about his orientation, everyone tolerated it, applauded and that should be it. He should be bagging groceries like all the other cuts, CFL, etc.

  • randyJ23

    How often does a sportswriter write about a low level draft pick cut by a team that doesn't play his city's team that year and isn't in their conference? But, no, it would be no distraction. ESPN had a story about Sam each of the past several days. Their second OVERALL story - not just football - on Friday was that Sam had not yet been cut. But there would be no distraction.

  • Rob D

    I get it, Skursky need to ensure the BN makes the obligatory article on why they need to sign the "first" openly gay player to burnish their credentials with the other libs in the media. However, to argue the need help at that position is ludicrous. What about putting a position where they need a lot more help, like OL or TE, etc?

    • WHAT?

      Because the Bills rightfully talk about a lack of pass rush talent behind Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes. If one of them get hurt, good luck. Trying to generate a rush from the tackle position is a joke. Hughes is playing despite a suspicion that he cannot hold up against the run. They are that desperate for edge speed.

      • jwdundee

        A guy that runs a 4.9 40 is going to give you "edge speed"? Doubtful.

  • regdunlop1

    The cynicism in these remarks is toxic...if gay men frighten you, say so...but cut the crap about the other excuses...as a football player, the guy has earned a shot...period...

    • randyJ23

      Gay men don't frighten most of us - we just don't want to sign another below average player just because he is gay. We have seen enough below average straight guys on this team over the past few years. You want to cut the crap? As a football player, he has had his shot - and like 99.9% of the population he does have NFL level athleticism. He is way closer that most of us, but he isn't there. His pro day showed that, his combine tests confirmed that, and the pre-season proved that. It says a lot when the team that watched him all pre-season long didn't think he was worth signing to the practice squad. That doesn't mean he is a bad player - he just isn't NFL quality. There is no football reason for the Bills to give him a shot - and right now, the Bills really need to be working on their team for football reasons. They don't have the luxury of having a player around to make political points.

    • BuffaloFan4Life

      I'm sorry, but all evidence to the contrary, reg. After being named defensive player of the year in the SEC, he showed up at the combine and put up numbers so bad that the experts on ESPN were falling all over themselves trying to rationalize and make excuses. Finally the great talent evaluator Bill Polian, never one to shy away from the truth, said that Sam's performance in the combine was average at best, and he wondered about the reality of the kid being drafted at all.

      Next, the Rams, the team closest to his college days, drafted him and you know gave him every opportunity to make the team. They gave him "his shot", and he did not earn a spot on the team....period.

      • Lloyd M. Jr.

        If it comes down to some amateur like Mr. Skurski saying something about Michael Sam's ability, and one as well-seasoned as Mr. Polian giving his frank, experienced assessments... I'm going with the voice of experience.
        One Bills Drive needs Polian back in the fold.

        • BuffaloFan4Life

          No kidding. If I was the winning bidder of the Buffalo Bills in October, the first call I would make would be to see if Polian still has the desire to come back, and then pay him whatever he asks for to become my team president of football operations. He could keep young Doug Whaley if he wants, or fire Whaley and hire himself as GM, or anyone else he sees fit.

  • Buffalo Bill Nelson

    Branch Rickey made absolutely certain that the player he picked to become the first African American player in the majors had the skill to be a first rate player. Jackie Robinson also had the temperament to endure the controversy. Sam certainly lacks that level of skill and does not possess even the most basic of NFL ability levels. The same is true of Tebow, who attempted to become the NFL's most openly pious player, but he stunk. If Sam had the ability level of Jerry Hughes, GMs would be brawling with each other to sign him.

    As for Landon Cohen, his preseason was so sensational, I was hoping he would become The First African American with a Typically Jewish Surname, Who May Actually be Jewish or Catholic or Lutheran or Muslim or Buddhist or Agnostic, but Probably Not Amish, Buffalo Bill. I was ready to brace myself for the onslaught of media coverage. Remember, it's always the right time to do the right thing. I was absolutely devastated that the Bills chose not to do the right thing for people with Landon's yet-to-be-determined race/name/religion. The sheer ignorance that the Bills displayed in cutting Landon is disgraceful. Speaking of the Amis, do you think Mike Williams is one? I mean that beard is highly developed, after all.

    • ptato22

      This is the best post on this site in well over a year. Thank you BBN. By the way, Sully and Bucky hated the idea of Mike Williams being a Bill. Now, he could easily do something silly this year, but right now he's one of my favorite players for sure. He's incredibly positive and has the game to say what he wants. The beard is way out there and I'm guessing he doesn't hang with your typical hipster (a bonus for him). I'm guessing Williams subscribes to his own religion.

      • Buffalo Bill Nelson

        Ptato, thanks for the thumb's up. I agree with you about Mike Williams; he's been positive and shows some good leadership qualities. Now, all he has to do is catch about 6 fade route passes in the back corners of the end zones this season and sprinkle in some other TDs. Hey, wouldn't it be a hoot if he unknowingly bought a house next to Marrone's in OP?

    • Michael Wylie

      Right. Look at Michael Vick. He's still playing despite his off field distractions, because he's talented. Period.

  • BuffaloFan4Life

    Ok enough of the Michael Sam articles already, BN. Fist Sullivan, now Skurski. We already know how liberal the BN is without these gratuitous, meaningless attempts at trying to be the most progressive sports section in the country. Sam was cut by the team closest to the college he played at. Isn't' that enough reason to just let the guy go away? The Rams gave him every opportunity to make the team, to prove he was worthy of at least making their practice squad, and he was just not good enough.

    There comes a time when talent has to win out, over being the first openly gay football player in the NFL. Michael Sam is no different from the vast majority of 7th round draft choices in the history of the draft since it shortened the format to contain only 7 rounds. He got cut. No other team in the league "owes" him anything. You say the Bills should ignore the "distractions". How exactly would that be possible, when two writers on the BN have already challenged the Bills to bring the kid in within days of the Bills finalizing their own practice squad? And here's Mr. Skurski, calling out the two DE's the Bills placed on their practice squad, and telling us Sam is better then both.

    Sounds pretty darn distracting to me!

    I've seen more then my fill of watching Mr. Sam kiss his boyfriend on national TV. The man has already won an ESPY for goodness sake. Too bad his talent does not match the media's need to make him a sensation. Perhaps Mr. Sam and his agent should take a step back and both realize that it takes HARD WORK to make it as a player in the NFL. I see that Sam is already being booked on morning TV shows. If he had half a brain, he would just shut up already and get himself back into the weight room and EARN second and third chances with other NFL teams.

    • rome middlesex

      heay skurski your right an ej is an NFL qb, ya moron

  • jwdundee

    He had three sacks. One against the backup in Green bay and two against a rookie that hasn't played a real game and will likely be a backup this year. Hardly impressive.

  • guest

    Lost all respect for Skurski........not that I had much anyway

  • Nitro

    Padded stats against second and third stringers. He was a 7th rounder for a reason. Give it a pass. Skurski why waste ink on this issue? Agenda driven reporting? I am curious.

  • revjimbeam

    id rather give tebow a chance than this attention whore

  • rome middlesex

    LETS FACE IT HE BLOWS

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About the reporters

Vic Carucci returned to The Buffalo News as a Bills beat reporter in September. Carucci covered the Bills for 17 years before joining NFL.com as a columnist in 1999. Prior to rejoining The News, he spent three years as a senior editor for the Cleveland Browns.

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida.