Rev up the Bible Belt paranoia. Cue the jokes about a gay player from Hitchcock, Texas and label them the Brokeback Mountain Cowboys. And get ready for the most scrutinized player and best-selling jersey in the history of NFL practice squads.
But if you actually think – rather than merely knee-jerk – there’s a method and a mind-set to the Cowboys’ madness of signing openly gay pass-rusher Michael Sam.
1. The defense needs playmakers.
2. Jerry Jones always seeks publicity.
If Sam passes his physical today at Valley Ranch he’ll take a place on the Cowboys’ 10-man practice squad. For a guy that will practice but not play on Sundays, won’t even travel to road games and make a mere $107,000 for the season, he’ll generate lots of headlines, merchandise sales and, yes, venom.
After Tuesday’s news I retweeted a column I wrote for the Blue Star Blog back in February in which I feared that Cowboys fans weren’t ready for an openly gay player. Within minutes, I had a man respond that he doesn’t want that “Tinkerbell” on his team.
Jones doesn’t have Johnny Manziel to market or a Super Bowl contending team to boast, but he does have a newsmaker in Sam.
But he does he have a legit football player?
The Cowboys were dismissive of Sam before the NFL Draft. He was a “’tweener” they said, not big enough to be a defensive end but not fast enough to be an outside linebacker. They had several chances to draft him, but instead took similar players DeMarcus Lawrence, Anthony Hitchens and Ben Gardner.
Said Jones at the time of the 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, “He just didn’t fit for us.”
He fits now, in multiple ways. But mostly because the Cowboys can use all the defensive bodies they can find. Lawrence is sidelined with an injury and Anthony Spencer is slow to recover from knee surgery and it’s a mystery where the Cowboys will find a pass rush.
Whether with his hand on the ground or as a linebacker, Sam has proven he can play. In the preseason with the Rams he produced three sacks. The Cowboys’ entire team had just five.
Perfect for Jones and the Cowboys, the signing of Sam is a football move. And simultaneously a glorious publicity stunt.
A native Texan who was born in Duncanville and graduated from UT-Arlington, Richie Whitt has been a mainstay in the Metroplex media since 1986. He’s held prominent roles on all media platforms including newspaper (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Observer), radio (105.3 The Fan) and TV (co-host on TXA 21 and numerous guest appearances, including NBC 5). He currently lives in McKinney with his wife, Sybil, and two very spoiled dogs.