Sports Out West

Michael Sam out: NFL prospect could fit with 49ers

Missouri v Kentucky

When former Missouri star defensive lineman Michael Sam announced he was gay on Sunday via ESPN’s Outside the Lines, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year knew the road less traveled wouldn’t be easy. 

“I understand how big this is,” he said. “It’s a big deal. No one has done this before. And it’s kind of a nervous process, but I know what I want to be … I want to be a football player in the NFL.”

The nervous process may be easier if Sam can begin his career in San Francisco, a city where differences among its citizens are often celebrated. He’s already taken the difficult steps of making his family and teammates aware of his sexual orientation, and now he will wait to see which NFL team, if any, will embrace the attention that is certain to come with bringing him in. 

The San Francisco 49ers are a prospective fit because of where they play, but from a team standpoint, they have Sam’s position filled by another former Missouri Tigers star in Aldon Smith. In the Niners’ 3-4 scheme, Sam could get lost in the shuffle.

But San Francisco has the luxury of having few holes on the defensive side of the ball. Sam could be a strong addition from a depth standpoint; he’s already proven himself worthy of the big stage by dominating the SEC with 11.5 sacks against the best talent college football has to offer. 

And as for any potential issues with cornerback Chris Culliver, who made headlines with his disparaging remarks against gays at Super Bowl XLVII, head coach Jim Harbaugh vehemently rejected the statement and Culliver has since apologized. 

The sentiment, though, remains. There will be a segment of players who may not be outspoken against having an openly gay teammate, but may spurn the idea. This is the biggest hurdle that remains. 

Again, given the city’s penchant for tolerance and the 49ers’ ability to draft for depth. The City by the Bay may be the ideal landing spot for this courageous player. 

Photo by Joe Robbins / Getty Images

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Michael C. Jones is the managing editor and founder of Sports Out West and a Southern California-based sports journalist. His work is also regularly featured on Yahoo! Sports and SB Nation. You can catch up with him on Twitter: @MikeJonesTweets.