The 2014 NFL Scouting Combine is upon us, and this year the hot topic being brought into the spotlight in Indianapolis is locker room culture. Difficult questions will be asked and overanalyzed regarding topics of bullying, teammate relationships and homosexuality.
Two controversies have sent seismic waves through the NFL over the past few months, one of which was the recent stir University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam caused by becoming the first NFL prospect to openly come out as a homosexual.
“I’m not afraid to tell the world who I am,” Sam told Chris Connelly of ESPN‘s “Outside the Lines.” “I’m Michael Sam: I’m a college graduate. I’m African American, and I’m gay. I’m comfortable in my skin,” he said.
The earth-shattering announcement by Sam had a ripple effect on all aspects of the NFL. It made Sam one of, if not the most polarizing figure in the history of the NFL combine. He will be bombarded with questions about how different he is and what kind of attention he will bring to a team, none of which is relevant whatsoever to his ability to play football. Sam is the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year after posting 11.5 sacks last season with Missouri.
The combine will be the first example of the effect Sam will have. It is the first time reporters will be able to bombard him with questions. The combine is the time where for four days, college kids are dissected down to every fiber of their beings. They are held accountable for every word out of their mouths just as much as they are for their bench press reps and 40-yard dash times. No prospect will come under as much scrutiny as Sam will.
“I personally assume it’ll probably be the largest media day that the NFL combine has ever had,” exclaimed Joe Barkett, Sam’s agent to Fox Sports.
In cahoots with the homosexuality issue is the infamous Miami Dolphins bullying scandal that exploded into an uncontrollable mess and brought into question every aspect of once confidential locker rooms activity.
Famously, offensive lineman Jonathan Martin left the team abruptly citing an overwhelming amount of abuse from teammates, namely fellow lineman Richie Incognito, who was later dismissed from the team.
At the center of that scrutiny so far has been Dolphins’ head coach Joe Philbin. In lieu of the scandal, coaches are going to be held much more accountable for what goes on in their respective locker rooms. Management is going to have to take measures to be aware of what is taking place and making sure that something like this never happens again. Philbin addressed concerns in front of a large crowd during his press conference at the combine.
“I have to do a better job,” said Philbin, according to Fox News. “I’m going to look at every way — the way we educate, the way we communicate, the way we talk to one another. I’m going to look at every avenue,” added Philbin.
The report added that the NFL recently reminded teams of the rules against asking players about sexuality at the combine after last year when a handful of players complained about being asked inappropriate questions about sexual orientation.
Now more than ever, locker room culture will be the talk of the town in Indianapolis this weekend. The NFL is taking a stronger stance across the board in terms of protecting its players, making this as good a time as ever to have our first openly gay NFL player, should Sam be able to overcome the believed media baggage that he will likely come along with as a draft selection.
Editorial by Justin Hussong