Various reports suggest the NFL called teams to ask whether any might be willing to add Michael Sam to its practice squad. The reports have made clear that the NFL did not pressure any team into doing so, but “made it known” that they’d like for teams to consider Sam after he was cut by the Rams. This has prompted some complaints of unfairness, since Sam here is understood to have benefited not from his football ability, but instead due to the attention his coming out has generated.
As he sometimes does, Colin Cowherd kind of walked into a compelling response today to those who think it’s wrong that Sam would benefit from this version of affirmative action (the right-wing news site, The Daily Caller, is clearly concerned about the development, for instance). Cowherd noted that many of his listeners love to brag about their own connections. The friends that could get a speeding ticket quashed. Or more favorable tee times at the local golf club. Cowherd recalled that in previous jobs, he frequently was asked to interview someone for a job because that someone was the son of some other important someone. “It’s not what you know, it’s a you know,” as the saying goes. Way back when, Bill James complained, seemingly with significant justification, that backup catcher Marc Sullivan had secured an undeserved spot on the Red Sox roster because his dad, Haywood Sullivan, happened to be the GM/team executive of the club at the time. Nepotism seems to be a real phenomenon in coaching, especially in football (Lane Kiffin, anyone?). Not to mention the owners’ suite (James Dolan, anyone?)
I’ve often thought of affirmative action as a way to countermand the effects of old boy networks – the government’s way of leveling a playing field tilted toward those born into the “right” families and the “right” social networks. That isn’t to say that Michael Sam doesn’t deserve a spot on the Cowboys’ practice squad on the merits. But even if his signing was partly driven by off-the-field considerations, Cowherd’s message today was clear – this is how things work in America. Michael Sam, trailblazer though he is, didn’t pioneer parlaying connections into opportunity.