The 49ers next season will move to Santa Clara, but they’re still the San Francisco 49ers.
San Francisco is a city that embraces its diversity. It seems the 49ers would be a logical fit for the first openly gay player in NFL history.
On Sunday, Missouri defensive end Michael Sam announced he is gay in interviews with the New York Times and ESPN.
The NFL released a statement on Sunday in support of Sam’s announcement:
“We admire Michael Sam's honesty and courage. Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”
Some draft experts rate Sam as a third-round draft pick – mostly likely at outside linebacker in the 49ers' 3-4 scheme due to his size (6-foot-2, 260 pounds). The 49ers own five of the top 94 picks in the draft. The 49ers own 11 draft picks, plus a third- or fourth-rounder expected as a compensatory selection.
The 49ers already have two Missouri products in their front seven: defensive tackle Justin Smith and outside linebacker Aldon Smith.
Sam was the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year after recording 11.5 sacks. There is a premium on pass-rushers in the NFL, but outside linebacker is not necessarily an obvious position of need for the 49ers.
Aldon Smith is signed through 2014, while the 49ers’ other outside linebacker, Ahmad Brooks, is under contract through 2017. The 49ers last season selected outside linebacker Corey Lemonier in the third round of the draft. Veteran Dan Skuta is also under contract through the 2014 season.
A year ago at Super Bowl XLVII, the topic of how the 49ers would accept an openly gay player became a major topic leading up to the game. Cornerback Chris Culliver said in comments to comedian Artie Lange that he would not accept a gay teammate.
Culliver subsequently apologized for his remarks, saying, “"I treat everyone equal. That's not how I feel."
In response to Culliver’s initial remarks, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said, “I reject what he said. That's not something that reflects the way the organization feels, the way the rest of the players feel."