I wrote this week that Michael Sam, the Missouri defensive end who came out as gay in February, wasn’t certain to be picked in the NFL draft. Of those players at his position who had been rated as sixth-round picks before the draft — as Sam was — slightly less than 50 percent were chosen by an NFL team.
I also wrote that I’d take Sam’s side of the bet given even odds:
Personally, however, if the odds are something like 50-50 on Sam being drafted, I think I’d take his side of the bet. Why? A player only needs one team to draft him. A player like Sam who generates polarized opinions might have a better chance of being chosen in a late round by a team like the New England Patriots or the Seattle Seahawks than one who everyone agrees is mediocre.
Perhaps this counts as a “correct” (if well-hedged) prediction. But I got one thing pretty wrong. I assumed that Sam would be chosen by a team like the Patriots or the Seahawks or the San Francisco 49ers that play in an urban area especially tolerant toward gay people. But St. Louis was probably the best fit all along.
How come? Public acceptance of homosexuality certainly varies from city to city and state to state. If we use support for gay marriage as a rough proxy, for example, I estimate that about 47 percent of voters approve of it in Missouri, as compared with 58 percent in California, 59 percent in Washington state and 66 percent in Massachusetts. (Obviously, the percentages are likely to be higher in cities such as San Francisco and Seattle specifically as opposed to the states as a whole. But that’s probably also true for St. Louis, which is considerably more liberal than the rest of Missouri.)
What varies a lot more, however, is appreciation for University of Missouri football. Interest in the Tigers is about 50 times higher in Missouri than in the rest of the country, according to the number of Google searches.
In other words, a higher percentage of people in St. Louis and elsewhere in Missouri will know of Sam as a football player and not just as a gay athlete. Here’s hoping that helps him to concentrate on what he does best.