WTOP Sports Blog
Posted on: Friday 6/6/2014 5:09pm
WASHINGTON -- Could 2014 finally be the year we see a Triple Crown winner?
We're going to find out on Saturday at 6:52 p.m. EST when the 146th running of the Belmont Stakes kicks off and California Chrome looks to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
While everyone in Elmont New York will be fired up and looking to celebrate this potentially rare feat, Triple Crown dreams have come to die 12 times since Affirmed's trifecta of wins. While California Chrome is the best horse on paper, on Friday afternoon his odds were 3-5, other horses who dreamed big after winning the first two races in the past 12 years have come up short, or in I'll Have Another's case in 2012 didn't have the opportunity to fail at all in the Belmont.
War Emblem lost by 19 and a half lengths in 2002. Smarty Jones broke America's heart when he was passed by Birdstone late in the Belmont in 2004 to finish second. Big Brown finished dead last by 25 ¼ lengths in 2008.
No Triple Crown winner has ever faced more than seven opponents in the quest to join the elite Fraternity of Triple Crown winners. The mile and a half run is a grind physically and mentally for both the horses and trainers, and California Chrome is running his third race in five weeks.
Now with all of the obstacles mentioned above, can California Chrome overcome the hurdles and become a national voiceless hero?
The answer is yes.
Here are my predictions:
Win: California Chrome
There is little question that California Chrome comes to his historic moment at Belmont Park on Saturday in excellent position to complete the elusive sweep of the Triple Crown. Even the horse's B-game is good enough to outclass the rest of the field on Saturday.
Chrome has essentially done nothing wrong since his six-race winning streak began at Santa Anita in December 2013. When it comes to the Triple Crown races, Chrome looked even better in the Preakness than in the Kentucky Derby, his time was the swiftest by a winner in seven years. After both races he galloped out with good energy and injury free.
As equally as impressive as the consecutive wins is that California Chrome has not lost one single pound of weight and has had strong training sessions since arriving at Belmont this past week. Art Sherman's son Alan Sherman sounds confident with his conditioning, mentioning that "within two days, he acted as if he had not even run in the Preakness."
Jockey Victor Espinoza has been brilliant atop Chrome, because he hasn't pushed him too hard at any point in his time as his jockey -- he really hasn't had to. The Belmont Stakes is all about stamina, and Espinoza has been masterful in his ability to manage Chrome's energy so he doesn't overly exert himself too early.
Posted on: Tuesday 5/27/2014 7:02pm
WASHINGTON -- On Tuesday the Washington Capitals embarked on a bold, new era. The team introduced Brian MacLellan as senior vice president and general manager, and Barry Trotz as their 17th head coach.
Well, maybe not "bold." And certainly not "new."
MacLellan probably doesn't have to move his office very far. He's been with the organization for 13 years (7 of which were spent as assistant GM) and has a long relationship with his predecessor, George McPhee.
Many know Trotz as the only coach of the Nashville Predators since their inception in 1999. But he was a Capitals assistant before taking that gig.
So perhaps what's old is new again.
MacLellan did well to downplay his connection with McPhee. "I'm a different person...we've evolved differently, but we're still good friends. So I think the philosophy will be a little different, the emphasis will be different going forward."
Listening to MacLellan at the press conference, he said exactly what we needed to hear from him: a commitment to hard work and changing the culture both on and off the ice. As a player, he won a Stanley Cup with Calgary in 1989 and managed to put together a decade-long NHL career despite starting it as an undrafted free agent.
However, MacLellan's work ethic was smeared on twitter by a guy who worked in the organization, so that's perhaps not the best way to begin a promotion (and also knee-slappingly ironic).
It's definitely a curious move. On the surface, it looks like the Caps wanted someone else and opted to turn to an in-house candidate to save face. Maybe MacLellan's overwhelming candor with owner Ted Leonsis on what he should be doing to make the team better held more sway than it should have.
All we know is that Leonsis doesn't have a reputation for making a move to simply shake things up. Thus, it's pretty hard to believe the man you envisioned to lead the "new direction" of the franchise would be the top lieutenant to the guy you just fired. Furthermore, it's pretty hard to sell to your paying customers.
The good news for the Capitals is that the exclamation points supporting the Trotz hire outnumber the question marks surrounding the MacLellan decision. Trotz was the team's only target, and has the 15th most victories among coaches in NHL history, and led an expansion team to the playoffs seven out of 15 years in Nashville.
Trotz did that without the bevy of talent the Caps have. Here, he'll have a league MVP--Alex Ovechkin--at his disposal, and the overall offense to blend well with this his brand of tough defense and discipline.
"Look at the four teams (still playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs), Trotz said. "They're hardworking, hard to play against teams. We want to get to that level. And the foundation is going to be hard work."
Trotz added, "There's enough skill here...accountability to the coach, to each other--that's more important."
If that message gets through to the current roster, and MacLellan can add more of the right players (starting with a long-term answer at goalie), this could be change the Capitals were looking for.
Posted on: Friday 5/16/2014 5:26pm
WASHINGTON -- Just up I-95 in Baltimore, the second leg of the race for the Triple Crown gets underway Saturday at Pimlico Race Course.
Unlike the Kentucky Derby, which featured 21 horses racing for victory, the Preakness Stakes features just eight colts, one gelding and a filly.
Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome may have had the slowest time for a winner at Churchill Downs since 1974 at 2:03:66. Despite that, he won his last race handily and the field on Saturday is one of the more mediocre in a while.
Here's how I see the 139th Preakness Stakes playing out on Saturday:
Win: California Chrome
This Kentucky Derby favorite delivered at Churchill Downs, building a comfortable lead mid-stretch en route to his fifth victory in a row. Five Kentucky Derby winners have won the Preakness in the past dozen years, and Chrome comes into this weekend as the 3-5 favorite. The only worry about California Chrome at the moment is a small blister in the back of the colt's throat which has caused a cough. However, trainer Art Sherman said Thursday that he was "relaxed" and "he's perfect."
You'll have to include him in a trifecta or superfecta if you really want to win some coin with this horse at the top, but he's too good to be left off your card.
Place: Social Inclusion
This bay colt never made it to the Kentucky Derby, as he has just three career races under his belt, including a third place finish in the Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct on March 5. The speed demon has a wealth of talent, and his 85-year- old trainer Manny Azpurua expects him to make California Chrome uncomfortable.
He's battled a bruised foot which could hamper his chances, but as long as he's healthy and the track conditions at Pimlico are solid, I think he keeps it within a length or two at the end with California Chrome.
Show: Kid Cruz
For starters, Kid Cruz is the only horse out of the ten who has raced at Pimlico before, winning the Federico Tesio Stake last month. Not to mention winning the nine-furlong Private Terms in Laurel by four lengths. So, needless to say, he's got the home court advantage on Saturday. Kid Cruz's trainer Linda Rice is just the 15th woman to command a horse at Preakness, and her colt has one of the lowest odds to win at 20-1 entering Saturday.
I'll take those odds in my trifecta!
Dark Horse: Dynamic Impact
At 12-1 odds, if you want to place a wager on a horse to win outright, Dynamic Impact's odds make him an attractive choice The colt overcame a slow start to his racing career after needing five tries to finally earn a victory, which came at the Illinois Derby in April. Dynamic Impact now brings a two-race winning streak to the gate and just seems to get better with every start. The distance of the Preakness shouldn't be an issue, as his stalking style should work to his advantage with plenty of speed at the front of the pack.
Big Chee's Card:
$1 Superfecta Box 3-8-7-1
$3 Trifecta Box: 3-8-7
$10 to Win: #1
Posted on: Tuesday 4/29/2014 7:40pm
WASHINGTON -- Over the weekend, we listened in disbelief to the the mind-numbingly racist comments attributed to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
On Tuesday, we were treated to Adam Silver's masterful handling of his first big challenge as NBA commissioner, just three months into his term.
Silver appeared to have done all of his homework before taking the podium to announce a landmark decision in the NBA: Sterling would be fined $2.5 million -- the highest sum allowed under the league's constitution -- and banned for life from the Clippers and the NBA. Silver also vowed to do everything in his power to get the NBA's board of directors to force a sale of the team.
This is what we needed to see. Anything less would have resulted in major unrest for not only the Clippers, but the entire league. Some of the weekend's loudest voices of outrage (Magic Johnson, Mark Cuban, and Kevin Johnson) applauded the league for its decision. Even the Clippers organization released a statement to convey support for the sanctions.
I personally refrained from weighing in on Sterling's comments in this space until now because 1) the audio hadn't been authenticated as Sterling yet and 2) I needed to see what NBA commissioner Adam Silver would do about this once his investigation was complete.
Now that due process has taken place, we can all say without reservation that Silver's stance is equal parts encouraging and imperative. Clippers sponsors were running from the team in droves. The public outcry is still palpable. Sterling had to go, or else the league would have been viewed as going soft on a man that's brazenly made life hard on minorities.
The truth of the matter is, the league should've taken his past acts into account rather than just applying these sanctions to the shocking audio. His track record is long and repugnant as it pertains to the treatment of minorities, and the NBA should've done something about this man a long time ago.
That's why -- if I may use a strong basketball analogy -- The Commish took Sterling to the rack and dunked it on his head. Silver needed to make sure his message would be heard loud and clear, not just by Sterling, but by all associated with the sports league most densely populated by black players, coaches, and patrons.
That message? Our product is about inclusion, and an owner with a slave master mentality will no longer be tolerated. He will not represent us, because he will no longer be a part of us.
However, the process to extricate Sterling has only just begun. He's known to be litigious, and there's the ever-sticky matter of his estranged wife still owning a significant piece of the franchise. But this is a decisive first step in a much- needed direction.
Perhaps the happiest of all are the folks in L.A. According to reports, the Clippers players are ecstatic over the ruling. The team's coach, Doc Rivers, has sounded like a man unsure if he would remain in that role next year if Sterling was still owner. Nobody can sigh a breath of relief more deservedly than those guys, because now they can shift focus from boycotts to basketball.
Perhaps now, Clippers fans (and casual hoops fans as a whole) can root for this team with no qualms. These players didn't ask to be in the position they're in, and Tuesday night's game could be the start of a revolution of sorts. The Clips have a long history of mediocrity, and perhaps history will look back on Game 5 of this first round series with the Warriors as the first legitimate chance at leaving that behind.
I know professional athletes tend to turn off the radio and TV to block out distractions, but I sincerely hope they somehow heard the words of ESPN's Herm Edwards.
On one of the dozens of editions of SportsCenter Tuesday, Herm's message was this: Don't let Sterling steal your joy. The opportunities to win a championship are often few and far between, and you should use this trial as fuel to get you there.
Edwards cited the story (or myth, depending who you ask) of the great Muhammad Ali, who won gold in the 1960 Olympics and threw the medal in the Ohio River after seeing the strife and racial unrest in the country he won it for. Edwards advised the Clippers to do the same: Win the title and throw the O'Brien trophy in the Pacific Ocean if the league didn't do the right thing.
No such symbolism will be necessary. The league has laid the proper groundwork for the team to move Sterling's name from Staples Center to a place where it belongs.
Posted on: Wednesday 4/23/2014 3:24pm
WASHINGTON -- As the ball left Albert Pujols' bat and flew over the left- centerfield fence at Nationals Park for his 500th career home run, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper barely moved.
Harper looked over his left shoulder and saw Pujols' shot land in the red porch seats for the milestone long ball.
It wasn't the first time that Pujols hit a memorable home run at Nationals Park, nor was it the first time that Harper was a witness to Pujols making history in D.C.
On Aug. 26, 2010, the former St. Louis Cardinals first baseman connected off Nats starter Jordan Zimmermann for his 400th career home run. Harper, who was still 21 months shy of his Major League debut, just happened to be at Nationals Park that day for his introductory press conference after signing his first professional contract ten days earlier.
As part of his first formal visit to Nationals Park, Harper's itinerary included a brief appearance at batting practice, a formal press conference with the local media, photo ops aplenty, and one inning visits with both the Nats' radio and television broadcast teams.
It was during Harper's fourth inning visit to the Nationals' radio booth that the then-17-year-old watched as Pujols, one of his favorite players growing up, connected on his 400th career home run.
Harper spent the inning with radio voices Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler with Pujols leading off the top of the fourth. Below is a transcript of how the at-bat unfolded, including Harper's on-air broadcasting debut.
Jageler: Top of the fourth inning, Nationals 3, Cardinals 1. We're a three- man booth here for this half inning with Bryce Harper joining us- the Nationals first-round pick… And Bryce, you were talking at your press conference, you had a chance to talk to Pujols today and it's not the first time. You've met him a few times over the last year or so.
Harper: Yeah Albert is a great guy, he's a really humble person and [cut off by the crack of the bat]
Jageler: Here's a swing and a long drive, deep right center, [Nyjer] Morgan going back, way back to the track and there it goes.
Harper: And it's gone.
Jageler: Into the seats in right-centerfield. Home run number 34 for the National League leader, Albert Pujols, and his second in five career at-bats against [Jordan] Zimmermann… I know he's your guy, as he's just hit his 400th career home run, Bryce you're a little witness to history with career home run number 400 for Albert Pujols.
Harper: Yeah, I told him before the game, I said ‘you're going to hit 400 tonight right?' And he said ‘I don't know, we'll see,' and I said ‘Yeah you will, definitely.'
Jageler: Well truth be told, you were talking to us five seconds before we went on the air saying that we might see history and sure enough, we did.
Nearly four years later, Nationals Park was again the site for some Albert Pujols history as the Angels first baseman hit his 499th and 500th career home runs in last night's 7-2 win over the Nationals.
"What's so special is to be able to hit 400 here and to be able to hit 500," Pujols told reporters after becoming just the 26th player in Major League to hit as many as 500 home runs. "That's something that's pretty special… I had a good feeling that it was going to be a special day. As players and athletes, you just have a feeling."
The 34-year-old Pujols became the third youngest player to hit 500 career home runs, while Harper, who doesn't turn 22 until October, already has 43 career long balls.
The Nationals and Angels close out their three-game series tonight at Nationals Park. Listen to the broadcast with Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler on WFED 1500AM at 7:05 p.m. Coverage begins with Nats On Deck at 6:30 p.m.
Posted on: Thursday 4/3/2014 5:20pm
WASHINGTON -- Here we go again.
As the ink begins to dry on the contract between the Washington Redskins and ex- Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson, we the media begin analyzing a very complicated situation.
Let's get the on-field aspect out of the way, that's obvious. The Redskins just got a whole lot better on offense and special teams. Jackson is one of the fastest players in the league and he's a legitimate threat to break a game open every time he touches the ball.
Add to that the money: Jackson comes to town on a 3-year, $24 million deal with $16 million guaranteed. That's almost a discount when you consider comparable receivers like Percy Harvin, Vincent Jackson and Mike Wallace make far more.
So, on paper (or on Madden), this looks great.
But when was the last time something that looked good on paper looked good on the field for the 'Skins?
The Redskins suddenly have an embarrassment of riches. Pierre Garcon is coming off of a 113-catch season. Jordan Reed promises to be a top-flight option at tight end. The 'Skins also have Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson, and Andre Roberts on deck. What happens if Jackson isn't not getting enough targets? Does he play good soldier or does he start acting like Terrell Owens?
Let's be honest: The Redskins track record with signings like these is long and wrought with failure. Yes, new coach Jay Gruden's fingerprints aren't on that rap sheet. But Dan Snyder's are. And as long as he's at the top of the Redskin pyramid, I'm of the belief this team lacks the organizational structure to properly support a move this risky.
Jackson comes to D.C. with baggage. There doesn't appear to be much substance to the rumors of his gang affiliation, but a guy with a reputation for not getting with the program and not having a strong work ethic is the antithesis of what the 'Skins need on the heels of the Mike Shanahan disaster.
New England can handle that. So can Pittsburgh, Baltimore and maybe Seattle. But not the team that recently gambled on Donovan McNabb and failed miserably.
Perhaps Gruden gets the most out of Jackson. Maybe we can finally test the leadership of Robert Griffin III. There's a chance veterans like Santana Moss and the newly-signed Ryan Clark help DJax emulate Cris Carter--another former Eagle who turned his life and his career around outside of Philly.
I'm just not eager to lay any money on that wager.
That said, the Redskins had to roll the dice. The price was right, the fit seems good and their conservative approach to free agency early in the offseason opened the door for them to take advantage of this unexpected opportunity. Team history would suggest this transaction will be a fruitful one.
But they'll have to prove their locker room and organization is strong enough to buoy up a player like Jackson, who perhaps needs a little more motivation than most players.
If this works, the NFC East is the 'Skins' for the taking. If it doesn't, they're right where they were before the move: grasping at straws and searching for answers.
As usual, this should be interesting.
Posted on: Thursday 3/27/2014 5:20pm
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- On the final day in Florida for the Nationals, the team got some concerning news.
Off-season addition Doug Fister exited a minor league game after one inning with a strained right lat muscle. He was scheduled to throw 60 pitches.
Fister has dealt with elbow inflammation, which occurred after his first spring start on March 2. He finally was able to pitch last Saturday and pitched well against Miami going 3 2/3 innings allowing two hits and striking out four.
Fister tried to build up his arm strength in order to make his first start on April 6 at Nationals Park. After the outing on Thursday he was scheduled to throw in one more minor league game and then be ready for his start.
All of that is in question now and Matt Williams is definitely concerned.
"He will see the doctor in Washington tomorrow (Friday) and we will evaluate from there. It's definitely a setback."
Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan both pitched very well this spring and are fighting for the fifth spot in the rotation. Both are scheduled to pitch in the exhibition game Saturday at Nationals Park against the Tigers and right now it is hard to imagine both of them not making the rotation with the uncertainty of Fister's health.
This has been a possibility all spring and that's one of the reasons both are still in camp.
"They both earned the right to pitch," Williams said.
As far as Fister's availability for the start of the season, "We will have to see what the doctor says and where we're at," he said.
J Zimmermann is ready
Jordan Zimmermann concluded his dominant spring with five innings of work allowing no runs on four hits. His totals this spring were 18 innings pitched, 15 strikeouts, only one walk and one earned run. His ERA was 0.50. He starts game three of the year next Thursday in New York.
Matt Williams said he is leaning toward starting Anthony Rendon at second base, at least for the opener.
"I think it's premature at this point, still, to declare anybody but I'm leaning toward Anthony in that regard."
This isn't a surprise, it was his job to lose coming into Spring Training. Danny Espinosa has made the team and has had a pretty good spring.
The Nationals will play one final exhibition game Saturday at Nationals Park against the Tigers. It all starts for real next Monday at Citi Field against the Mets.
Posted on: Tuesday 3/4/2014 2:03pm
WASHINGTON - Yesterday, just 90 minutes before the league-imposed deadline, the Washington Redskins designated Brian Orakpo their franchise player.
Throughout the next few days (and maybe even months) many will question the wisdom in this transaction. I'm here to tell you it was the right call.
The Redskins wrestled with this decision. Then mulled over it some more. Finally, general manager Bruce Allen and company arrived at the decision that made the most sense for all parties involved.
They slapped Orakpo with the non-exclusive rights franchise tag, meaning he'll play the 2014 season at the average salary of the top five paid players at his position (which for linebackers is $11.455 million). Orakpo has the right to negotiate with other teams, but the 'Skins get the opportunity to match any offer. If 'Rak goes elsewhere, the Redskins get two first round draft picks as compensation -- which would be awesome for a team that hasn't had a first round pick in any of the last two drafts.
The latter scenario is highly unlikely. With just 39.5 sacks in his five NFL seasons, Orakpo hasn't distinguished himself nearly enough for someone to pay that steep a price for his services. Even the Redskins are on the fence about him because he's shown flashes that he can be elite, but he's never put together a full season of evidence to support that notion.
However, Orakpo is the best pass rusher on a team devoid of defensive talent. Just letting him walk shouldn't be an option. At 27 years-old, he's entering his prime. He's the healthiest he's been in years. This season, he'll play in a defense he already knows and promises to play more to his strengths.
Yes, paying one man over $11 million is steep. But that's the going rate for pass rushers, folks. Only quarterbacks will cost you more.
That's where some of the detractors of the Orakpo tagging lose the point. The Redskins have roughly $30 million dollars in cap space to play with. Spending a third of that space on a homegrown guy with the potential to be a great player at the most important non-QB position isn't a bad investment.
Furthermore, this regime has proven they're bargain shoppers in free agency. They haven't targeted the big-name players; they go for the second-tier guys who fit their system and won't blow up their budget. Pierre Garcon is the biggest free agent signing since 2010, and he came here on a 5-year, $42.5 million deal -- a contract that pales in comparison to some of the other deals the previous regime handed out for way less production.
After Garcon's 113 catches for 1,346 yards and five touchdowns in 2013, I can picture Allen sitting in a VIP booth at some swanky lounge saying, "I don't spend big often...but when I do, they produce."
Oh wait...I may be thinking of someone else. But I digress.
Chances are, the $20 million in leftover cap space will be more than enough to address other needs -- many of which won't get addressed in free agency this off- season anyway. This front office builds through the draft, so much of that cap space probably isn't getting used anyway.
The real issue seems to be people either overestimating or underestimating Orakpo. He's not elite, but he's definitely not a scrub either. He's a good, but not great, player and it's hard to really put a price tag on his true value.
That said, Orakpo can dictate that price in 2014. If he comes out and has an impact year (i.e.--15 sacks, six or seven forced fumbles, and maybe another pick six for good measure), he'll get top-flight money. If he has another 10 sack season (seven of which came during the Redskins' 8-game losing streak to end 2013), Orakpo and the 'Skins are right back to square one.
That's why the Redskins did the right thing by franchising Orakpo. It buys them one more opportunity to see what they have in their three-time Pro Bowl linebacker.
If he finally plays up to his potential, it'll be money well spent.
Posted on: Saturday 2/22/2014 7:48pm
VIERA, Fla. -- Greetings from wet Viera, Fla.
It was the first rainy day of spring training, but the Nationals completed their morning workouts before the afternoon thunder boomers hit the area.
Indoors, I had the chance to sit down with Matt Williams. I first asked him about his managerial makeup. Remember, he played for such skippers as Dusty Baker in San Francisco, Mike Hargrove in Cleveland, plus Buck Showalter and Bob Brenley in Arizona.
Williams says he gets his preparedness from Buck, who he describes as ultimately prepared. He calls Dusty a player's manager - meaning he was a combination big brother, father and confidant. When the D-Backs won the 2001 World Series, Williams says Brenley let the players police the clubhouse because it was a veteran club.
So, he's taken a piece of all the managers he's played for. But, he calls Dusty his mentor since he was his hitting coach first, then manager.
They still keep in touch.
Among the many things we talked about, I found out his favorite baseball movie is "Major League. " He likes comedies.
We'll run a lot of the interview on WTOP as the season approaches.
When it comes to the regular season, Williams says he may not have a set lineup game-to-game. He's still working that process out. However, he's sure Denard Span will leadoff. Bryce Harper will be all over the top of the lineup, maybe even bat fifth, while Jayson Werth prefers to hit third, but is open to other spots.
Williams did add that while he would like to flip-flop from a lefty to righty to lefty batter throughout the lineup, he still might stack the power guys in the middle. Last season, Davey Johnson tried to go with a lefty-righty-lefty 1-8 but when the team struggled, he mainly abandoned that idea in search of offense.
Williams posts a quote every day on the top of the workout schedule .
Friday it was "it takes a great deal of stamina to pursue success."
Saturday, it's "perfection is unattainable, but the pursuit of perfection is imperative."
Williams says the reason for the daily messages is to give the players something to think about. If they talk about it, even better. He does admit there is some plagiarism when coming up with the quotes.
Three players became new fathers this off-season: Ryan Zimmerman, Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg. None of them seem stressed out about their new responsibilities. They're about as low-key as you can get. Strasburg says parenthood puts everything in perspective. And, he's even changing diapers. Well, once in a while he admits he chips in. Plus, he and his wife are lucky. He says his daughter is sleeping through the night.
As for pitching, Strasburg says his elbow's been fine ever since he had bone chips removed right after the season. He likes the presence and energy that Matt Williams brings to the club and glad that pitching coach Steve McCatty is back. He says you know what to expect from "Cat."
And finally, because I'm sure you wanted to know, Jayson Werth's beard lives.
Did you think it wouldn't?
However, he admits he trimmed it right before reporting to camp. And now, Adam LaRoche and reliever Ryan Mattheus are sporting healthy growths, giving Werth serious competition for the biggest beard on the team.
Werth says it was usually no contest in the past. Now, he guesses he came in third.
He's alright with that.
Posted on: Monday 2/10/2014 3:16pm
WASHINGTON - "I'm not afraid to tell the world who I am. I'm Michael Sam. I'm a college graduate, I'm African-American, and I'm gay."
With those words, the idea of an openly gay professional athlete in one of the four major sports leagues is close to reality.
Assuming Michael Sam is drafted in May (the senior defensive end out of Missouri heads to the NFL scouting combine as a projected 3rd-4th round pick), he'll become the first openly gay player in NFL history, thus ensuring the leap to the NFL isn't the only leap of faith he's taking.
As LZ Granderson points out, Sam is far from the first gay player in the NFL. Jerry Smith's name is right here at FedEx Field in the Redskins Ring of Honor, and his tale was recently recounted by NFL Network's "A Football Life" series.
But Sam is the first player to come out before his career officially begins, rather than at a point during or after his playing days. All he will know is the scrutiny and media attention stemming from his bold announcement.
The genesis of Sam's decision is laid out in detail
here. I think he played this exactly the way you have to when you're breaking something this big: He shared his truth with the people around him, then shared it with the public before the story got ahead of him.
San delivered his message on his terms without having to respond to rumors or reports from anonymous sources.
Sam's draft status shouldn't suffer. He's one of the best defensive ends in one of the best conferences in college football so he figures to garner some attention from teams seeking to bolster their pass rush.
It'll come down to whether teams are willing to take on the distraction of the media attention he'll attract.
The early reaction around the NFL has been mixed thus far, but I believe things will eventually get better for Sam as time goes by.
Hopefully, he'll go to a team like New England that has strong leadership and a quality support system in place. This ensures he'll not only maximize his talent, but his opportunity to eliminate any stereotypes or negative connotations associated with his lifestyle.
However, that shouldn't be Sam's focus. His publicist Howard Bragman hits the nail on the head:
"Michael is a football player, not an activist," Bragman said.
"If you start showing up at too many dinners and too many parades, you start to send the message to a potential team about his priorities. The community wins when he steps onto an NFL field and plays in a game, not as the grand marshal of a pride parade. He may do that eventually, but the first year needs to be all about football."
Hopefully, removing the burden of secrecy will help him do that. I hate the comparison of racial discrimination to the intolerance of sexual orientation, but the struggle for equality is largely similar.
Sam will need to do more than stick to an NFL roster to tear down barriers for gay athletes the way Jackie Robinson did for race in baseball.
That's why the weight and the impact of this announcement can't be overstated.
After watching Sam in his ESPN interview, it's apparent he's confident and comfortable in his own skin. He's also overcome a lot of adversity and personal tragedy in his life, perhaps making him uniquely suited as a trailblazer for gay athletes. He's taken the first step and some of the heat off subsequent young athletes brave enough to be who they are without worrying about public perception.
Seeing the locker room doors open for gay athletes is long overdue.
Here's hoping history will remember Michael Sam as the man who opened those doors and left them open for more homosexual athletes bold enough to be true to themselves.
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