Is Michael Sam a Hero or a Hustler?

Michael Sam is in a spotlight he put on himself.

In the entire history of the NFL, there has never been a seventh round draft pick quite like Michael Sam.  His story is unique.  He inspires and he polarizes.   On his chiseled physique rests the hopes, dreams and aspirations of an untold number of LGBT Americans who may care nothing about pro football, but are pulling for the first openly gay player to make a team’s roster.

But the feel-good aspect of Sam’s story was sidetracked by the revelation that a reality TV program for the Oprah Winfrey Network was in the works.   NFL officials were aware of this before Sam was drafted in the last round by the St. Louis Rams, but none of the teams were told.   Would it have lessened Sam’s chances of being selected?   Without a doubt.

As a rookie, Sam stands to make a minimum salary of $420,000.  Excluded is a signing bonus and other contract bonuses negotiated between the player and club.   Sam’s contract can’t be renegotiated until after three years and he would not receive any salary until the regular season starts.  If Sam doesn’t make the Rams roster, he gets nothing but the bonus money.

If Sam were to play for the three years of the contract, his minimum salary would to $495,000 in the second year and $570,000 in the third.

Michael Sam (and friend) get the good news.

“Michael is focused on football and making the St. Louis Rams team,” said Howard Bragman, Sam’s publicist and one of the show’s producers. “We’re going to work with the Rams organization to make sure the show doesn’t interfere with his primary goal.”

Bragman didn’t say how much Sam stands to make from the show, but you can bet it’s more than his rookie salary.

The pay range from the No. 1 pick to the last at No. 256 is more than $22 million.   Compared to Sam,  Jadeveon Clowney, the top overall selection of the Houston Texans will sign a $22 million contract, including a guaranteed $14 million signing bonus.   That last part is crucial because unlike the NBA or MLB, contracts are not guaranteed in the NFL.  If Sam bombs out at the first practice, that’s it.

Certainly Oprah Winfrey, the NFL and to a lesser extent, the Rams, are hopeful that isn’t the case and the Michael Sam shows ends before it barely gets started.   But there are no guarantees Sam will be on the team’s opening day roster.   As a borderline player who was not highly coveted despite his SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors, Sam is unlikely to find many other teams to latch on if the Rams cut him loose.

It is understandable why Sam would agree to the making of a reality show on his journey to the NFL.   Unless he make it in the league, his star will never shine brighter and burn hotter than it does now.   The time to maximize the Michael Sam Brand is now when the interest is there as well as the cameras and commercial endorsements.

What this does is shoot a hole in Sam’s assertions he wants to be known as just a football player and not any sort of celebrity.   Let’s be honest here.  If Sam wasn’t a gay man, there would be no story here.  He’d be just another guy taken in the last round of the NFL Draft trying to impress his coaches by winning a roster spot.

Making money while you’re trying to make a football team isn’t a bad thing, but there’s no way Sam can honestly claim he only wants to be regarded as just another guy.  He’s not.  He’s a celebrity and whether he makes the team there will be books, talk shows, and a ton more deals coming his way.

Sam’s representatives are making all the typical sounds of how this won’t become a distraction, but it already is.   Nothing about Sam leads me to believe he is stupid or naive and he’d have to be both not to know how this would look to the casual football fan who doesn’t care if Sam is gay, doesn’t mind if he kisses his boyfriend on camera, and only expects him to make plays and be about the team, not himself.

There is a strong conservative streak in the NFL.   When a straight player like Chris Kluwe made too much noise about gay rights, it was suggested by the front office that he should pipe down and when he didn’t, Kluwe was out of a job and out of the league.   If Sam becomes the go-to guy for what the gay athletes position is, it’s not going to be well-received in the locker room in St. Louis or NFL headquarters in New York.

While Sam deserved a shot and thought he should have been drafted higher, he pretty much went where he was supposed to go. Sam is a classic “tweener.” Not big enough to play on the line and not fast or intuitive enough to play linebacker. Even if he hadn’t been drafted there are reports he would have received invitations as an undrafted free agent from no less than four teams.

What Sam has said he wanted most was exactly what he got. He wanted to be treated like just another football player and nothing special.   It seems that wasn’t true now and while he’s still worth pulling for, his status as an underdog has given way to that of a savvy hustler, and that’s a little disappointing.   The burden is on him to prove he’s not just hype, but a change agent on the football field, not reality TV.

Michael Sam could be another Jackie Robinson, but if he doesn’t watch it he could end up as the next Tim Tebow.

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Is It Tebowing or Teblowing?

tebow

Welp, guess it’s time to take my talents to South Beach. Or South Dakota.

This is a slow time of the year for a sportswriter on the NFL beat. Free agency movement has dried up to a trickle. The draft is over. Training camps don’t open for months. What is there to write about?

If you’re Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports you dream up with a conspiracy theory. It’s not that Tim Tebow can’t find a job in the NFL because of his notable deficiencies as a quarterback. It’s because the 32 teams in the NFL got together and blackballed Tebow.

Silver has no quotes from anyone on the record.  He hasn’t stumbled across a secret memorandum or e-mails.   Tebow didn’t sit down and bare his soul wondering what had he done to provoke such unfair treatment.   All Silver has is vague speculations and few facts.

As a journalist who has consistently experienced the wrath of Tebow Nation — mostly for passing along the slings and arrows voiced by various NFL players, coaches and talent-evaluators — I’m well aware that many devotees of the world’s most celebrated unemployed quarterback carry a heavy persecution complex.

Yet as Tim Tebow‘s career wheezes to an underwhelming halt, with less apparent interest in his services than Massachusetts funeral parlors have in Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s remains, something strange is happening. Against all odds, I’m starting to wonder whether the man who helped the Denver Broncos become one of the league’s most stunning success stories in 2011 is getting unjustly blackballed.

This is some straight-up b.s. from yet another acolyte of the Church of Tebow. How can you decry the “cult-like following and media frenzy” that goes along with Tebow and then suggest Tebow is being blackballed?

Tebow is not being “blackballed.” His situation is the same as Charles Woodson, Vince Young, Michael Turner, Dwight Freeney, John Abraham and Brian Urlacher. He’s like hundreds of other homeless NFL veterans looking for a team to latch onto. In the time after the Super Bowl ends in winter and before training camps open in summer, teams cut loose players due to salary concerns, injury, age and for the reason Tebow was told to hit the bricks: lack of production.    Tebow was let go because he didn’t get the job done.

It’s as if Tebow is the unwanted love child of Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell.

So, even though I sort of understand why Tebow is toxic, the fact that he’s not even being given a chance to compete for a third-string job is troublesome. And just as I feel compelled to call out the league when it comes to injustices like the dearth of minorities in offensive play-calling roles, the apparent blacklisting of a quarterback who went 7-4 as a starter in 2011 and won a memorable playoff game over the Pittsburgh Steelers doesn’t seem kosher to me.

Let me see if I can explain this to you, Mike.

Silver babbles about Tebow’s 7-4 record and playoff win over the Steelers when he was with the Broncos. Well, whoopie-damn-doo and So what? The NFL is not a “what have you done?” league. It is a “what have you done lately?” and Tebow was presented with a situation with the Jets to take the starting job away from incumbent Mark Sanchez and he couldn’t take the job. Tebow was so bad, loudmouth braggart and foot fetish freak Rex Ryan looked down his bench, saw Tebow collecting splinters and tapped third-stringer Greg McElroy to start against the Chargers.

Tim Tebow-

“Compare myself to Jesus Christ? I’d never do that.”

“I liked what I saw from Greg against Arizona. And I like what I see on the practice field. I truly believe it’s best for our team right now. That’s how I feel about it,” Foot Freak Ryan said at the time.

That tells you everything you need to know about Tebow as a quarterback. He won, but he isn’t a winner. He wears a quarterback’s number, but he isn’t a pro quarterback. Not in the National Football League, not in the Canadian Football League and not even in the Lingerie League.

I’m not trying to hear this line about Tebow not getting a fair chance. What’s fair? He practiced with the team, the coaches had a chance to evaluate how well he did. Even a team as desperate for productive play at the most critical position looked at what The Chosen One and chose another option. It wasn’t a better option, but McElroy doesn’t come with baggage store that accompanies the Tebow Circus.

When its time to ride or die, Ryan had to decide between the second-string scrub with the drama or the third-string scrub with no drama.  For the Tebowmaniacs that was the ultimate insult, but being bad at his job doesn’t deter the Tebow groupies like Silver. They desperately want to see their hero back in the league and desperation makes you do desperate things. Like trotting out bogus “expert” opinions to support your own.

Isn’t there a coach out there who can help Tebow get the most out of his abilities? Logic would suggest that someone with his level of commitment would be a strong candidate for improvement.

It may have already happened: After Tebow was released by the Jets, one of the franchise’s former quarterbacks, Vinny Testaverde, expressed his disappointment to ESPNNewYork.com’s Rich Cimini. Testaverde, who had just spent a week working with Tebow in Florida, said he and another ex-NFL quarterback, Chris Weinke, made a key footwork adjustment that produced noticeable results.

“Chris and I looked at Tim careful and we were both amazed,” Testaverde told Cimini.

“Everybody has been focusing on his throwing motion, trying to fix that, but nobody had picked up his footwork. His footwork was all screwed up …

“We got his footwork fixed. His throwing motion is now a non-issue. He throws with what we call ‘effortless power.’ He doesn’t have that elongated motion anymore and his head isn’t moving two-and-a-half feet when he throws it.”

According to Pro Football Reference.com, Vinny Testaverde played for seven teams in his 20 year NFL career. He played in two Pro Bowls and no Super Bowls and his career record is 90 wins, 123 losses and a tie. In 2001, Chris Weinke was the starter for the Carolina Panthers. He won his first pro game 24-13 over the Minnesota Vikings. The Panthers would drop their next 15 consecutive games. In five seasons in the NFL, Weike would win only one more game and no, that is not a misprint.

These are the holy men who are going to resurrect Tebow’s career from the dead?

Another former Jet quarterback Boomer Esiason had an opinion about Tebow. “You can say whatever you want about Tim Tebow,” Esiason said. “He played some of the worst football that any quarterback has ever played in the history of the game last year at times.”

“… All you have to do is watch him throw the ball. Just watch him.”

I have and Michael Silver has too. I don’t know what he’s seeing that I’m not.

Is Tim Tebow a nice guy? Never heard a bad word about the guy as a person. Is his Chrisitan faith being held against him? No more so than it was against Reggie White, another religious player who made no secret or apology for his beliefs.    As long as he was getting the job done on the field, if Tebow were to drop to one knee, throw up devil horns and give praise to Satan,  most NFL coaches and owners could care less.

Pro football is not played in May.   When the doors open to training camp, it’s not only possible Tebow is invited by some team, it’s likely.   It’s a long season, quarterbacks get hurt and when one does,  Tebow will get a shot to latch on somewhere.    It will be up to him to earn a job.  Nobody owes him one.

Can you hear the Tebowphiles, chanting in the background? All we are saying … is give Tim a chance.

And is it possible — scarily — that I’m singing along?

Yes you are Brother Silver and please turn to the Book of Tebowing.   Or in this case, Teblowing.

“I’m coming to your team to take your job. Praise the Lord!” “Hope you’re renting, not buying, Jesus Jr.”

The End of Tim

Football Jesus needs a new gig.

Tomorrow Timothy Richard Tebow will wake and face the day no differently from millions of other Americans.

Unemployed and looking for work.

After the horrendous New York Jets drafted Geno Smith they found themselves with half-a-dozen quarterbacks on their roster.   So they cut Tim Tebow and put ESPN into crisis mode with round-the-clock coverage with updates from all 32 teams where reporters pestered puzzled general managers and coaches about how soon they would be flying Tebow in for a visit.

The headline from CBS Sports wondered, “Where will Tim Tebow play now that the Jets have set him free?”

The answer is, Canada or nowhere.

This day was long anticipated and now that it is here, I don’t know why anyone would be surprised.   Tim Tebow may be a God’s favorite son not named Jesus, but he sucks as a quarterback.   I specify “quarterback” because if he were willing to convert to a tight end or fullback, Tebow might be able to play in the NFL.  But as someone to lead a team as a quarterback, nobody wants to be bothered with the Tim Tebow Show coming to their town.

On Sale. Cheap.

If Tebow wants to be mad at anyone he should be mad at his own rabid fan base and ESPN which has swung on his nutsack since he came over from his glory days as a Heisman Trophy winner.   He wouldn’t be the first stud whose game in college didn’t translate to the pros, but the bread and circuses that follows Tebow wherever he goes makes him unemployable in the NFL.

Tebow’s presence sucks up all the oxygen in the room.   The sports media led by ESPN’s fawning over all things Tebow is a constant distraction and divides locker rooms.   Tebow can throw a bit, run a little bit better and win just enough to instantly becomes the biggest star on any team.

And for what?   Last year in a 34-0 skunking of the Jets by the 49ers, I watched with amusement as Terrible Tim loped onto the field and accomplished the following:  A 1-yard run, and he had a 9-yard completion that resulted in a lost fumble.   The mystery isn’t why Tebow is likely over and out as far as the NFL is concerned now that the Jets and Broncos have given up on him.  The real mystery is how he suckered two teams into thinking he could ball?

Hey man, nice haircut.

Tebow is an imposter.  He’s been impersonating a professional football quarterback.  He isn’t.  He wasn’t.   He never will be.  He can’t read defenses.  He can’t check down to a second or third receiver when he can’t find his first.   He can’t even make plays with his feet when his suspect arm fails him as it usually does.

The hype and hysteria that follows Tebow is what now makes him an unwanted commodity in a league where the fall-off from first-string to second and third-string quarterback is drastic.  Most of the 32 teams carry three QB’s over the grind of a NFL season.  That’s 96 potential job openings and what’s it say about Tebow that he isn’t good enough for one of them?

In one way it’s nobody’s fault but Tebow he’s joined the long list of unemployed players looking for a job.   His fans act as if the Chosen One is owed a job in the NFL and his enablers at ESPN have done nothing to discourage that ridiculous notion.    Because he’s a good Christian and God-fearing soldier for Christ, Tebow has become a cause for conservatives, but most NFL teams don’t choose their field generals based upon how much support they have from The 700 Club crowd.    Production is still the bottom line and Tebow didn’t get it done.

His fans will cry and weep and gnash their teeth that Tebow wasn’t given a fair chance which is utter bullshit.   He was given ample chances on the field to make plays and didn’t.  They will say Tim just wants to play.  That isn’t true.  When the Jets gave Tebow’s agent permission to shop around for a new NFL home, the handful of interested teams said, “Sure.”  Providing he was willing to change positions to tight end, but Tebow wants to play quarterback or nothing.

Looks like nothing won.

Tebow posted a message to his two millions Facebook fans, “Proverbs 3:5-6:  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

Tim had better hope He makes a path for him straight to Canada and the CFL because for now time has run out for Tebow Time.

“Oh, NFL Gods. Why hast thou forsaken me?”