Addressing the question I raised yesterday in the wake of top college defensive end Michael Sam’s announcement that he is gay, Ken Rosenthal spoke with a handful of Major League Baseball executives on how they would respond if they were in the position to consider drafting an openly-gay player like Sam. All said they would have no problem bringing Sam into the organization, and you can see their specific thoughts in Rosenthal’s piece.
Chicago Cubs President Theo Epstein’s response is highlighted first, and I think that’s appropriate, given that he knocked it out of the park:
“If the reports about his football ability and character are accurate, we would sign the baseball Michael Sam in a second and be a better organization for it,” Epstein told Rosenthal.
In other words: good player? Good teammate? Good character? Bring him on.
I don’t think anyone can completely ignore the clubhouse and media implications of bringing in the “first Michael Sam” in baseball, because, right now, it isn’t as simple as saying “if he can play baseball, the rest takes care of itself.” While that’s certainly true in the long-term, there could be clubhouse issues to diffuse, and an incessant media drumbeat to deal with. A strong organization, however, would and should be willing to deal with those things to bring aboard a quality player.
And, on that point, you can head to the other side of town for an excellent point.
“Are you, as a leader of your organization, prepared to provide the young man the public and private support he will need along with controlling, to the extent you can, what the behavior is in the clubhouse/locker room?” White Sox President Kenny Williams told Rosenthal.
“If the answer is yes, then you have an opportunity to use what some see as a distraction and use it as an individual and team character-building opportunity along the lines of what Branch Rickey did for Jackie Robinson. If the answer is no, then it is unfair to select him because like it or not, this will be a daily media/fan event and will need to be managed to keep everyone’s focus on the job at hand.”
This is something that will come up in baseball within the next few years. MLB is getting the benefit of Michael Sam (and, to a lesser extent, Jason Collins (since he hasn’t played post-announcement)) breaking in the national consciousness a bit before having to deal with the issue directly. But I think we all do ourselves a service, as fans of the sport, to discuss the issue openly and respectfully now in the abstract – then everyone is all the more prepared when “the issue” is actually “a person.”