Sunday, August 10, 2014

Chewing the fat: The NFL drought

Posted By on Sun, Aug 10, 2014 at 7:49 AM

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Cattle are known for chewing, swallowing, regurgitating and re-chewing their food. The sloppy mess that results from this ritual is called "cud."

As the National Football League begins its preseason, most of the news surrounding the league tastes a little like I imagine cud would taste. How many times can we discuss and dissect Johnny Manziel’s "high-ceiling vs. low-floor" possibilities? In how many terms can we project Cordarrelle Patterson as a fantasy sleeper? Blegh! It’s all been reduced to a fine, flavorless, mealy mess.

I don’t know about you, folks, but I’m ready to chew on something hearty and meaningful. Unfortunately, we’re in the midst of the late-summer NFL drought, and the lush meadow that is the regular season is still little more than a mirage. And while we await the arrival of honest-to-goodness news and statistics, there is one piece of cud in particular that I’m looking forward to turning into yesterday’s excrement: Michael Sam’s imminent impact on the league.

Let's look at the bigger picture — I'm not interested in impact, I'm interested in change. Michael Sam is the first openly gay man to be a part of an NFL roster, and, more pointedly, invited into an NFL locker room. NFL locker room culture has been illustrated by the longtime struggle of female reporters and their locker-room access; women have always felt that they deserved the same access as men, but were rarely met with respect or dignity once they stepped into the epicenter of testosterone.

Sam is spawning comparisons in his brief tenure as a social figure, most notably between him and another trailblazer, Jackie Robinson. There are some obvious similarities, but we should remember that it wasn’t just having his name on a roster that sealed Robinson’s legacy, it was the manner in which he endured and thrived in the face of extreme adversity that made him an icon of civil equality in competitive sports. And despite the vocal and violent racism of fans and players alike, Robinson endured, and wowed with his consistent bat and impressive speed. He won Rookie of the Year, an MVP Award and a World Series.

Will Michael Sam need to achieve a similar status on the field in order to help shift the culture of the NFL? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Robinson’s statistics and accolades were useful in building the mythology and folklore, but the main thing he needed to change the temperature of the Major League Baseball was courage.

I believe Sam can do wonders for the mentality of the NFL locker room, and for the meathead viewpoints of the bigoted fan, if he simply endures, and grows through the slurs and comments that are sure to come his way. It isn’t hard to believe that a former SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year can achieve greatness on the field, but he needs to be resilient, and show resolve and strength off the field for a long enough period of time. Cautious players and fans need time before sexual orientation becomes an afterthought, and other players, on other rosters, need time before they’ll no longer live in fear of coming out publicly. When that time comes, that’s when I’ll say Michael Sam has really changed the game.

My jaw is sore from the continual re-chew of the Michael Sam saga, but now that the first pigskins are being hiked, rosters are being whittled down, and we’re getting our first glimpse of what the 2014 season has in store, we can rest assured that our time of tiresome regurgitation is coming to a close. Fresh, neatly trimmed fields are just around the corner, ready and waiting for our hefty appetites to devour.

Nic R. Krause was born a cranky, curmudgeon of a child in a Minnesota suburb. He was plucked from the muggy tundra and relocated to Colorado Springs 22 years ago. From intramural jai-alai, to his complicated relationship with the Minnesota Vikings, Nic, plainly stated, is bonkers for sports. Follow him on Twitter @NicRKrause.                   

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