- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer
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Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff made clear the team’s stance it terms of how openly gay prospect Michael Sam will be evaluated prior to draft.
"We recognize and appreciate the courage that Michael Sam demonstrated with his recent announcement," Dimitroff said in a statement "The NFL has always valued inclusion and diversity. As a team-builder, our job is to judge players on their talent, character and potential. His announcement will have no bearing on how we evaluate him as a football player."
Sam, the co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year from Missouri, worked closely with the Falcons' coaching staff during the Senior Bowl. If Sam happened to end up in Atlanta, Dimitroff is confident in how his locker room would handle the situation.
"We’ve always taken pride in the locker room that we’ve put together," Dimitroff told ESPN.com in a follow-up conversation. "In the end, this about the individuals and how they adhere to our team concepts, our team approach. And it’s about the individual’s character and his ability to make this team better."
There has been a lot of discussion about how much of a distraction it would be for any team that decided to draft Sam, based on the increased media attention sure to follow an openly gay athlete. Dimitroff addressed the matter in general terms.
"First, I believe it has become quite en vogue in this league to monitor distractions," Dimitroff said. "It’s very important to make sure that distractions are kept in check. That said, every organization has a different definition of what a distraction is or distractions are. And I truly believe that’s something that is going to be dealt with from team to team."
Now that Sam has gone public, it is fair to wonder if the topic of his sexuality will be discussed when he sits down with teams prior to the draft. Those questions might surface during the upcoming NFL combine. But the Falcons won’t engage in such inquiries, according to Dimitroff.
"An individual’s sexual preference is not part of our research," Dimitroff said.