Among the many awful things uncovered in former Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden’s emails on Monday was the unsubstantiated assertion that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had pressured then-St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher into drafting Michael Sam, the first openly gay draftee in league history.
Fisher’s Rams drafted Sam, the reigning co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year, out of Missouri in the seventh round of the 2014 draft, a few months after Sam publicly came out as gay.
A day after the publication of Gruden’s years-old emails and his speedy resignation, Fisher emerged from the coaching wilderness — he currently works as an adviser for Tennessee State’s program — to bluntly refute Gruden’s claim that Sam’s sexuality had anything to do with the Rams’ decision to draft him:
Fisher’s full statement:
Michael Sam was the SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, and we selected him in the 2014 NFL Draft based on his defensive production and pass rushing skill set on the field.
As a head coach for over 20 years, we drafted or didn’t draft, players based on a variety of qualities. Their sexual orientation would never — and should never — play a part in the decision-making process.
Sam responded to Gruden as well, opting to take the high road while quoting a tweet that noted Monday was National Coming Out Day. It’s also worth noting that Gruden had been the coach of Carl Nassib, the first player on an active NFL roster to come out.
It has been said before, but Sam’s selection remains the only time in modern football history that using a draft pick on an SEC Defensive Player of the Year has been deemed a controversial choice. When he was drafted, Sam was coming off a 30-tackle, 10-sack senior year in which he tied Baltimore Ravens first-rounder C.J. Mosley for the top college football conference’s top defensive honor.
In addition to the Sam claim, Gruden’s emails with then-Washington Football Team president Bruce Allen reportedly included anti-gay and misogynistic slurs, racist tropes, topless photos of Washington cheerleaders and criticism of some of the NFL’s most important social progressions. They were reportedly uncovered as part of an investigation into workplace misconduct allegations in D.C., and might not be the only ugly thing to emerge.