Michael Sam's CFL career is off to a rocky start

Michael Sam made his long-anticipated debut as the first openly-gay professional football player when he appeared for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League in their loss to the Ottawa Redblacks this past weekend.

The debut was uneventful as Sam was on the field for just 12 plays and did not record a sack or a tackle. But Sam’s rookie season has gotten off to a rocky start on and off the field, and according to reports from Canada it sounds like teammates are turning on him.

Problems started during the preseason when Sam left the team for “personal reasons.” At the time, Herb Zurkowsky of the Montreal Gazette wrote Sam was not expected to return and floated a rumour that Sam left simply because he wasn’t good enough.

“The latest theory concerning Sam’s departure was that he simply wasn’t good enough to make the roster, sensed this and left to save himself and the organisation embarrassment. This particular scenario is gaining steam throughout the Als dressing room and, for that matter, the CFL.”

However, Sam did return two weeks later, just prior to the start of the regular season. That is when the problems really started. Even though Sam did not dress for the first five regular season games, he was kept on the active roster which meant he received a full game check each week, according to Zurkowsky, and his teammates are not happy.

The anger is likely fuelled at least in part by Sam’s $US100,000 salary (~$US76,000 US). While that is peanuts compared to the NFL, that is huge in a league with a $US5.0 million (~$US3.8 million US) salary cap where most rookies make half that, the average salary is about $US80,000 (~$US61,000 US), and about 10% of players work a second job in the offseason.

That issue might be tempered if Sam was producing as a player, but the criticism of his early play was brutal.

“Sam has become a distraction,” Zurkowsky wrote. “He doesn’t play on special teams and isn’t considered competent. Privately, more and more players are criticising the preferential treatment he has received.”

One of the biggest criticisms of Sam coming out of college at the University of Missouri, where he was the co-defensive player of the year in the SEC, was that Sam was too small to play defensive end but not fast enough to be an NFL linebacker. In his CFL debut, Sam played end and struggled to get to the quarterback.

The heaviest criticism was reserved for one play in particular as Sam fell for a fake that led to a touchdown.

It is still early and Sam is signed to a 2-year contract. So he will get a chance to improve. But if he doesn’t do it soon, it sounds like things could get ugly north of the border.

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