Michael Sam will be evaluated on football merit

Michael Sam will be evaluated on football merit
February 21, 2014, 9:30 pm
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We're going to treat that the same way we treat we would any other player...His decision to come out has no bearing on where we place him on our board.
49ers GM Trent Baalke

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Programming note: 49ers Insider Matt Maiocco is on the ground in Indianapolis to cover the NFL Combine. Check back for his coverage all weekend and get the full report on SportsNet Central every night at 6 and 10:30 p.m.

INDIANAPOLIS -- In the span of two weeks, Michael Sam has risen from relative obscurity to among the most-talked-about prospects at the NFL Scouting Combine.

When he speaks to the media on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium, he is expected to generate a lot of attention due to his quest to become the first openly gay individual to play professional football.

[RELATED: Is Michael Sam a fit for trailblazing Raiders?]

Sam and every other prospect at the Combine is allowed to conduct individual meetings with 15 minutes per team in the evening. NFL teams are prohibited from broaching the subject of a player’s sexuality during those sessions.

Media, however, are under no such guidelines. So NFL teams might be listening at Sam’s press conference for the answers to questions they are not allowed to ask.

But 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh does not see the media’s role as entirely helpful. In fact, he said he believes the media pose the biggest obstacle to Sam’s career.

“I’d worry more about the media and wonder if they’ll allow him to go through the process,” Harbaugh said this week. “Or are they going to try to make him their daily story and over-scrutinize and not give him any room, any space to go through the process.

“There is a news cycle that is 24 hours a day now. My hope for him is that he gets to go through the process and it’s an enjoyable experience and he’s able to compete to the best of his ability without any distractions.”

Harbaugh said he expects Sam’s integration into an NFL locker room to be as uneventful as it apparently was at Missouri.

“I truly believe that the NFL will handle it,” Harbaugh said. “I can’t speak for every guy, every single locker room, but I truly believe, as many players have already commented on, it will be welcoming. I truly believe that.”

Raiders coach Dennis Allen said he believes everybody in an NFL locker room think in similar terms when it comes to teammates. And, in that sense, Sam will be held to the same standard.

“I really think in an NFL locker room what players really care about is, can you help them win? Can you help them be better?” Allen said. “And as long as you can do that, I don’t think they really care one way or the other.

“How many years ago, it was ‘How about a black player in the locker room?’ And that was probably even more controversial when that happened. But it was all about, can he help you win? And if he can help you win, who cares.”

San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke said the 49ers will place Sam on their draft board like any other player with the evaluation encompassing his skills as a player and his character and passion for the game.

[RELATED: Is Michael Sam good fit for 49ers?]

"We're going to treat that the same way we treat we would any other player," Baalke said. "We're going to evaluate the film, take a hard look at the fit for our organization. What can he do for us on the field, within the community? His decision to come out has no bearing on where we place him on our board."

And how would Sam fit into the 49ers’ 3-4 scheme?

He most likely would project as an outside linebacker or pass-rushing end in nickel situations. Baalke was asked if Sam is similar to Parys Haralson, who spent six seasons with the 49ers before a trade sent him to the New Orleans Saints last season.

"He's a young man that's had his hand in the dirt, that's played strong end for them for most of his career," Baalke said. "So I think, yeah, I think that's a fair comparison."


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