Over the last few days, the NFL has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. This all stems from the Wall Street Journal story published Friday on Jon Gruden’s leaked emails to former Washington Football Team president Bruce Allen about NFLPA President DeMaurice Smith. Gruden then resigned as head coach of the Raiders, effectively landing his football career in the dustbin when more of his emails were obtained and released by the New York Times, messages which showed he’d blowtorched both the LGBTQ community and women in the NFL.
Tuesday evening, former NFL head coach Jeff Fisher jumped on Twitter to post a message in response to Gruden referencing Fisher and the St. Louis Rams cutting a deal with the NFL to draft openly gay defensive lineman Michael Sam in 2014 to avoid appearing on HBO’s Hard Knocks.
We don’t know this for sure, but maybe the league did want the Rams to draft Sam, and dangled a Hard Knocks exemption if they would. Would that be the worst thing in the world? No, I don’t think so. Change usually comes about due to pressure being applied and deals being made. We all know the culture of football, not just the NFL. Maybe that’s what it was going to take to draft the league’s first openly gay player. Maybe the Rams wanted to draft Sam anyway. Who knows.
Fisher could be genuine in his Tweet from Tuesday night. Although I did raise an eyebrow upon initially reading his Tweet. It could be the skeptic in me that asks, why now? The timing struck me as odd. No one is accusing Fisher, or the Rams for that matter, of any wrongdoing in any way. The timing of Fisher’s statement really caught my attention. I don’t think he needed to “clarify” (in his words) what Gruden said. Fisher was an afterthought until this Tweet was posted. Are there more emails out there regarding Sam? It’s hard not to think that. I do like the message Fisher is attempting to convey in his support of Sam, but is he just getting ahead of something that’s due to arrive in the not-too-distant future?
Hopefully, Fisher’s high praise of Sam as a football player is genuine. As head coach of the Rams, Fisher selected Sam with pick number 249 of 256 in the 2014 draft. And Sam didn’t make the team after being drafted. Sam then had a brief stint on the Dallas Cowboys practice squad before exiting the NFL, having never played in a regular-season game. Reports around the league said Sam — who was SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 and a unanimous All-American — wasn’t fast enough, coupled with being too small to play defensive end. I’m not saying this wasn’t true, but we see players switched to positions that better suit their skills and attributes all the time, and at every level of football, including the NFL. Had more readily open opportunities been available to Sam at the time, maybe he wouldn’t have stepped away from the game in 2015.
Knowing that there are more emails concerning the Washington Football Team investigation that Gruden got swept up in, it will be intriguing to see how the rest of this plays out. We know the league handed over certain emails to the Raiders, but like most stories of this nature, you know it’s only a matter of time before the most sensitive of these other 650,000 emails are leaked.
And think about this. The NFL is investigating one of its teams, and out of all those emails, the only ones to be leaked involve a person who was not employed by the team under investigation. He wasn’t even a member of the NFL when those emails were sent. That’s just odd.
If there is another wave of emails on the way, I’m sure it’ll only be a matter of time before the rats begin jumping off the ship in favor of self-preservation.