1) Those front office personnel who spoke anonymously to Sports Illustrated about Michael Sam’s draft prospects and the locker-room issues his presence might engender are getting raked over the coals. NFL Players’ Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith called them “gutless,” a sentiment that has been widely shared. Former NFL wide receive Donte’ Stallworth, in a long series of tweets yesterday, said that any organization that couldn’t handle Sam’s presence was already a loser organization with weak leadership. And the NFL itself has said all the right things about welcoming Sam. It also reminded all the teams Sunday night of its (recently strengthened) non-discrimination policy. It’s certainly a sign of immense progress that it is those who would express discomfort (let alone straight up bigotry) about Sam are on the defensive. Clearly there has been a landmark cultural shift in recent years which has, among other things, changed fundamentally the calculus of business entities about their image and marketing such that being inclusive and “gay friendly” is the economically sensible thing to do (certain prominent companies notwithstanding).
Having said that, it would be naive to deny the likelihood that Sam’s draft stock will fall as a result of his being who he is. As I said yesterday, that there will be greater focus on his sexuality than on his almost mind-boggling personal story, is a measure of our own depraved and warped sensibilities and priorities. Clearly, this will be more of an issue for some organizations than others, which is why I don’t quite share Drew Magary’s pessimism that no NFL team will put Sam on a roster this Fall if they think he can help them. And in fairness, there are certainly some questions about how his game will translate to the next level.
But I can’t help but think that, if he does make it to opening day this year, the dominoes will fall relatively fast thereafter. Other players will own their truth, as Sam put it, the vast majority of fans won’t care, front offices will increasingly realize that it’s doing them more harm than good to deny themselves access to a portion of the talent pool, and we’ll move on to other things. It doesn’t follow that all the ugliness and ignorance will disappear. But the balance of forces will pivot quickly. Or so I hope.
2) Over the weekend, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Representative Tom Cole (R-OK), a Chickasaw Nation member, wrote a letter to the NFL to demand that they change Washington’s team name and threatening the league non-profit status if it fails to do so.
“The National Football League can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur. It is clear that you haven’t heard the leading voices of this country – and not just Indian Country,” the letter reads. “Virtually every major civil rights organization in America has spoken out in opposition to this name including the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League, the Rainbow Coalition and the League of United Latin American Citizens. “The National Football League is on the wrong side of history. It is not appropriate for this multibillion dollar 501(c)(6) tax-exempt organization to perpetuate and profit from the continued degradation of tribes and Indian people. It is time for the National Football League to formally support and push for a name change for the Washington football team.”
It’s well-established that the NFL’s tax-exempt status is a joke in any case, and should be revoked regardless of its response to the name controversy. The tax exemption also amounts to a quite trivial sum for the NFL, so I am not sure its revocation would ultimately matter much to the league, though threats to its partial anti-trust exemption could be a much bigger deal. I don’t think it’s true that there is a consensus, as the letter asserts, that the name is racist and offensive, though clearly the tide of public sentiment is shifting against it.
What is true is that its advocates are having an increasingly difficult time defending the name. The team’s own approach to the controversy has become increasingly ham-handed. And in a particularly revealing press conference at the Super Bowl, Commissioner Goodell refused to answer a reporter’s question about whether he would use the team nickname to address an individual Native American. But notably, while defending the name as one honoring Native Americans, Goodell used only the term “Native Americans” to describe Native Americans, not the other label that he says honors them.
I suppose I am on an historical inevitability kick today, but the name will change eventually. What’s unclear is how long it’s going to take Dan Snyder and the NFL to figure that out.
Update: Richie Incognito’s tweet to Michael Sam:
“@MikeSamFootball #respect bro. It takes guts to do what you did. I wish u nothing but the best”