I wonder if any other front office in the league would have cracked down this swiftly. Miami sweated through an endless PR forest fire last year over bullying and “locker-room culture” with the Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin mess. They probably decided early vis-a-vis Sam that they weren’t going to tolerate the smallest spark.
And this spark was small. Don Jones’s crime was two tweets, each exactly one word long, after Sam was chosen by St. Louis in the seventh round: “OMG” and “Horrible.” Maybe that was about the pick itself, maybe it was about Sam kissing his boyfriend on TV after he got the call. Either way, after rapidly being fined, barred from team activities until he attends “educational training,” and publicly scolded in separate statements by his coach and GM, Jones issued a formal apology crafted in fluent publicist-ese:
“I want to apologize to Michael Sam for the inappropriate comments that I made last night on social media. I take full responsibility for them and I regret that these tweets took away from his draft moment. I remember last year when I was drafted in the seventh round and all of the emotions and happiness I felt when I received the call that gave me an opportunity to play for an NFL team and I wish him all the best in his NFL career. I sincerely apologize to Mr. Ross, my teammates, coaches, staff and fans for these tweets. I am committed to represent the values of the Miami Dolphins organization and appreciate the opportunity I have been given to do so going forward.”
No doubt the NFL leaned on the Dolphins to hit Jones hard in the interest of sending a zero-tolerance message to the broader league, but like I said up top, I’m sure they didn’t have to lean heavily. People were grumbling on Twitter yesterday that even the slightest criticism of Sam for being gay is now verboten whereas it was A-OK to mock Tim Tebow for his faith, even on the field during the game. Right, but that’s simple economics. Gay-rights activists are organized and willing to use their economic power to punish the NFL if it doesn’t protect one of their own; social conservatives really aren’t beyond statements of disapproval from the Family Research Council etc. Mozilla made the same, perfectly rational judgment in choosing to, ahem, accept Brendan Eich’s “resignation.” Keeping Eich on could have triggered boycotts, caused business deals to collapse, and given the company a lingering black eye in its industry. Firing him wouldn’t. There was, I’m sure, an initial backlash of thousands of social conservatives uninstalling the browser, but after a few weeks the company’s survived the storm and has clear sailing ahead. That wouldn’t have been the case if they’d kept Eich. The NFL understands that.
Tough spot now for the Rams, as Jazz noted yesterday. Do they dare cut Sam if he doesn’t play well in training camp, as often happens to seventh-round picks? Sam claimed this weekend that he should have been taken in the first three rounds (notwithstanding his underwhelming performance during the combine); he didn’t say explicitly that he thought teams had bypassed him because he’s gay, but then Don Jones didn’t explicitly mention Sam’s orientation when tweeting “Horrible” and everyone seems to have read behind the lines on that one just fine. If the Rams end up cutting him, how much grief will they get — including from Sam himself, maybe — for not giving him a chance?