WASHINGTON (CBSDC) – Taking nothing away from Missouri senior standout Michael Sam’s courageous decision to publicly out himself as gay, prior to the 2014 NFL Draft — which could make him the NFL’s first openly gay player — there have been gay players in the NFL previously, says former Redskins general manager Charley Casserly.
“First of all, there’s been gay players in the National Football League before,” Casserly told the Junkies on 106.7 The Fan on Tuesday. “There’s been gay players on teams that the teams knew they were gay.”
“I experienced two situations with the Redskins,” Casserly said. “One was Jerry Smith; it was my first year, and it was his last year. But people knew he was gay, on the team. And he played; in fact, he was an All-Pro player.”
Smith, now deceased, made two Pro Bowls in his 13 seasons with the Redskins (1965-1977). He also happened to be gay, a lifestyle he very much tried to keep from becoming knowledge, as was recently chronicled in a film on NFL Network. Casserly and Smith’s time with the Redskins overlapped in 1997 — Smith’s final season NFL season and Casserly’s first, as an intern under then-head coach George Allen.
Casserly was initially asked to comment on a piece written for Sports Illustrated by Pete Thamel, citing eight NFL executives who chose to remain anonymous, specifying that Sam’s decision to publicly declare himself as gay would cause him to fall lower in the upcoming draft.
“We had a player — an unnamed player — with the Redskins when I was there,” Casserly said of the Redskins’ second gay player, although he was sure not to name the player or period in time during which he played.
“Everybody knew he was gay,” he said. “He was a backup player. He played one year for us, not because he was gay, because that’s what his ability warranted — it was a one-year player for us, and everybody went about their business. My point is, there’s been gay players and if teams drop [Sam] in the draft, then shame on them.”
“It wouldn’t drop with me, because I look at [Sam] as a football player, and he is what he is and let’s start there,” he said.
Casserly did indicate he’s reviewed plenty of film on Sam and views him as a sixth-round draft pick, which seems to fit with the projections for Sam by other executives with which Casserly has spoken.
“The teams that I interviewed had him as a fifth- or sixth-round pick; this is before any of this,” he said.
“When I looked at tape myself of him, to me, I can see what they say in that. He is an undersized guy — short guy — got pretty good effort; I think he could be a good special teams player, but your problem is where do you play him on first and second down against the run. He’s awfully small for a defensive end, he plays outside linebacker — he still is undersized out there, at least height-wise.
“When I watched him on tape, he’s not an elite speed guy, he’s got probably better quickness than speed, but he never shows any inside ability, any inside counter moves, so what people are gonna do is they’re gonna overset him. In other words, they’re gonna take away the outside move, let him come inside. Specifically in the [Texas] A&M game, against a player that’s going to go in the Top 10 next year, he was dominated.”
Casserly did leave open for the possibility that Sam’s talent could exceed his projections, much in the way of other previous undersized defensive players James Harrison and Elvis Dumervil.