Report: Rams agreed to draft Michael Sam to avoid ‘Hard Knocks’
A new report accuses the NFL and St. Louis Rams of brokering a deal that would allow the team to avoid appearing on an intrusive TV show, and the league to avoid a PR disaster.
Veteran NFL reporter Howard Balzer says the Rams agreed to draft Michael Sam in 2014 to avoid being featured on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” that year.
Sources say NFL agreed not to have Rams on Hard Knocks in 2014 if they drafted Michael Sam.
— Howard Balzer (@HBalzer721) March 23, 2016
Balzer shared the report the day the Rams were announced as the team that would be featured on the HBO training camp show in 2016.
According to Balzer, the NFL feared a PR disaster that would ensue if Sam went undrafted. The Missouri Tigers product and former SEC Defensive Player of the Year was projected as a late-round pick, but as the draft neared the end, Sam remained on the board. The Rams ended up taking him at pick No. 249 out of 256.
It was a sweet story as he was picked by the “hometown team,” and it gave Sam the awesome and controversial moment of being shown kissing his boyfriend on TV (video here) — a seminal moment in sports history.
Sam had come out publicly as gay in the months leading up to the draft after receiving many questions about his sexual orientation during the draft process. There is speculation that had he never come out, he might have been drafted earlier.
As far as the “Hard Knocks” arrangement goes, many teams do not want to appear on the show because they view the presence of multiple TV cameras around their facilities as intrusive and an invasion of privacy. If no team volunteers to appear on the show, the league can choose one to appear. The Rams were eligible to appear on the show in 2014 based on a few factors (you cannot have a new coach nor made the playoffs the past two seasons).
Sam actually played well during the preseason for the Rams, racking up three sacks. He still was cut before the season began.
Sam commented on the report via Twitter Wednesday:
I'm not surprised at all https://t.co/wGnyFpuIVP
— Michael Sam (@MichaelSamNFL) March 23, 2016
In addition to allegedly working out a deal to draft Sam, Balzer points to another suspicious situation connected to the team’s 7th-round picks. Balzer says the Rams were considering drafting defensive end Ethan Westbrooks with one of their 7th-round picks but passed on him and took center Demetrius Rhaney with pick No. 250. The thinking was had they taken another defensive end after Sam, it would have made it look like they didn’t have a lot of intention on giving Sam a strong shot of winning a roster spot.
The Rams eventually signed Westbrooks as an undrafted free agent and gave him more money than most seventh-round picks would receive. They also listed him as a defensive tackle rather than end, possibly to keep with appearances that their interest in Sam was genuine. Balzer suggests that in exchange for sacrificing a pick for the league by taking Sam, the NFL told the other teams to keep their hands off Westbrooks.
I’m sure this is exactly what Sam wants to hear — that he was a pawn in a big PR game. The report would also confirm suspicions of conspiracy theorists who believed the Rams were told by the league to draft Sam to avoid a PR disaster.