With NFL draft prospect Michael Sam recently disclosing he is gay, some league observers have compared what the former University of Missouri football player will endure in terms of media coverage to what San Diego Chargers linebacker Manti Te’o dealt with his rookie season.
Te’o faced intense media scrutiny during the draft process after the revelation that the death of his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, was a hoax.
Te’o had to deal with more questions than normal during San Diego’s offseason workouts and in training camp, but eventually the questions from reporters subsided as the season wore on. That will not be the same for Sam.
An openly gay player in the NFL is a story that transcends sports, and will attract plenty of mainstream media from around the country, and perhaps the globe. It’s a story the team that selects Sam likely will have to deal with throughout the season.
Sam deserves a chance to prove his worth in the NFL based solely on his skills as a football player. But it will take the right organization and leadership in the locker room to embrace his situation, allowing Sam to flourish on the field.
Chargers general manager Tom Telesco declined to discuss Sam’s situation this week, stating a desire to not talk about specific players available in this year’s draft. However, Telesco did offer his perspective on how the Chargers successfully dealt with the media scrutiny Te’o endured after he was selected in the second round by the Chargers, including the organization doing its due diligence before selecting the Notre Dame product.
“Believe it or not, we do the same process on everybody,” Telesco said about the evaluation of Te’o. “So with him, we just did a lot of homework on him. That’s what our scouts do. They try and put that puzzle together on their own as far as talking to a lot of different sources and talking to people they know. We have to get to know the player as a person, as well as a player. So, you have to go through that process.
“Sometimes you have to lean on some people and talk to some people that know the player better than you do. People that have been with the player every day for three or four years, rather than us, who only get small amounts of time with them, and then you make a decision on if you think the player fits you or not.”
Once San Diego selected Te’o, Telesco said the organization did its best to support him, but ultimately it comes down to the character of the individual and how they handle adverse situations.
“Our support staff is really good between the PR [public relations] department and the player development,” Telesco said. “And then we have a strong head coach, and a strong locker room.
“And then the biggest piece of that is the player. Is he mature enough to handle that situation? That has to all add up together. If one of those is missing, it may not work. But in Manti’s case, he’s mature. He’s sharp. And we felt like obviously from the media’s perspective there were going to be a lot of questions to answer, but we felt like he could handle it. You can only have so much support from people, but some of it has to come from the player.”