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Michael Sam, the NFL Veteran Combine and seizing opportunities

The NFL's Veteran Combine was Sunday and among the participants was Mizzou's former SEC co-defensive player of the year, defensive end Michael Sam. His performance was called "marginal" and "underwhelming".

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Sam makes his case at Veterans Combine

He was among about 100 players trying to rekindle their NFL careers at the first NFL Veterans Combine, held at the Arizona Cardinals’ practice facility all day Sunday. Sam measured at 6 feet 2, 260 pounds, and was timed at 5.02 and 5.03 unofficially in the 40-yard dash on what was a very slow track.

Michael Sam participates in first NFL veteran combine - ESPN

Sam said he did not talk to any scouts, instead meeting with the media immediately after his workout before quickly leaving the Cardinals' facility while the other defensive linemen in his group lingered around to cool down and recover. He refused to answer nonfootball questions, including one about whether his appearance on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" will affect his chances to make a roster.

Former safety Hamza Abdullah, himself a 7th round draft pick who played from 2005 to 2011 for four different teams, took to twitter to offer advice:

More than a few Mizzou fans, myself included, have voiced concern that they didn't see the level of commitment necessary for Sam to make it in the NFL. This goes back to before his appearance on Dancing with the Stars. He's stated he sees himself playing football this year, including the Canadian Football League, but as our own commenter Damnatio Memoriae put it when the news about his Dancing with the Stars appearance first came out:

I'm torn between the world as I'm pretty sure it is, and the world as I think it should be.

In a perfect world, if he was one of the 128 (or 32 times however many DEs most teams carry on their 53 man roster) best DEs in the wold, he’d find a spot in the NFL. As it is, as long as he’s anything other than a sure-fire NFL talent, I think conveying the message that he’s anything other than 100% focussed on football hurts his chances. Being the first openly gay player in the NFL brings a level of scrutiny that most NFL teams are uncomfortable with, but they’d never admit it on the record. The Oprah thing became an excuse for teams, and this will too. I don’t blame him for enjoying his life and the opportunities presented to him, but he has to know that if he really wants to make it in the NFL, this can’t be helping. I don’t like it, but I think that’s the truth.

Site Manager Jack Peglow has similar thoughts:

Michael Sam’s level of commitment to making an NFL roster has been in question - both justly and unjustly - since the day he publicly came out as gay. Those questions increased in quantity after a lackluster performance at the 2014 NFL Combine, in which Sam looked sluggish and out of shape. Despite that (or because of it, depending upon your point of view), he was selected with the 249th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. He was through the door, the hard part was seemingly over. All that Sam had to do was prove himself on the field, the arena where he was supposed to perform better than anywhere else. And yet, here we are. Almost a year has passed since that time, and Michael Sam has not only failed to make an NFL roster, he’s out of the league entirely. Yes, there are a multitude of non-football forces at work here. Different sources will claim varying degrees of it, but it is almost certain that Sam’s sexual orientation is part of the reason that teams have been reluctant to sign the former SEC Defensive Player of the Year.

Part of the reason.

No matter how close-minded you think NFL front offices are, you can be sure of one thing: talent trumps trouble. Players with more red flags than Michael Sam have been and are currently employed by members of the National Football League. No matter how much they do wrong off the field, these players will continue to cash checks emblazoned with the Shield while Sam struggles to gain a foothold in the league because they are too talented for teams to avoid. Is it fair? Hell no, but that’s the way the game works. If he wants to make an NFL roster, Michael Sam needs to follow this well-trodden path. Give teams no choice but to sign him. To do that, he needs to be completely and utterly committed to the endeavor. I believe Sam when he asserts that commitment; but when NFL executives listen in, they fail to hear him. His words are drowned out by his actions. They don’t see Michael Sam, gym rat; they see Michael Sam, Dancing with the Stars contestant. They see his poor performance at the Veteran Combine and think, “How much better would he have done if he didn’t have a routine to memorize?” They see a performer, not a player.

I stand with Sam, just as the vast majority of you do. I want him to succeed in the NFL, and to do so - fair or not - he must remove all doubt that he wants the same thing.