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Distractions vs. excuses and having a winning mentality

We take a look at the notion of "distractions" and whether they're just excuses for teams that are going to lose anyway.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

As soon as Missouri defensive end Michael Sam appeared on ESPN's Outside The Lines to inform the world that he was gay, we saw a host of reactions from players, coaches and personnel people. Of those reactions, most were of the public variety, but (among others) had a few anonymous comments about Sam's draft stock and what his announcement could mean.

"I don't think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet," said an NFL player personnel assistant. "In the coming decade or two, it's going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it's still a man's-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It'd chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room."

This much-shared quotation should not be meant to represent the entirety of the NFL, but it does represent a sizable chunk of people that we hear about every draft season. Whether it's Michael Sam's sexuality, Johnny Manziel's partying ways, Cam Newton's smile or some still unknown issue with Geno Smith, one of the most common critiques we hear every year is that of the "distraction". A given player might slip on X, Y and Z draft boards because of off the field distractions.

It is entirely possible, and probably likely, that some players on Sam's potential future team will have a problem with his sexual orientation. While we've heard great things about the Missouri football team, there was a tweet at one point (I can't remember the player in particular) that made an interesting point:


I think this is actually important because even though people had some problems with this, they didn't take it public. Talking crap behind someone's back isn't a healthy approach, but the team was winning, and people seemed to put up with it. Ideally, if there are intolerant people in the locker room at the next level, they'll be kept in line by the leaders of the team until they start to realize the reality of the situation.

Michael Sam is the story of the week (and really the year), but this is an issue that goes beyond him. Anonymous GMs and coaches will complain about all sorts of things as distractions, when in reality they are seemingly creating excuses when things go south for them.

Former NFL wide receiver Donte Stallworth had some very interesting tweets about this notion of distractions vs. excuses:

Stallworth talks about Belichick and Kraft in this situation, but look at how other teams handle distractions, and you get an idea of the pecking order of the NFL. Take our own 49ers as an example. Aldon Smith had to deal with five weeks of rehab, and the team found plenty of ways to win during that absence. Colin Kaepernick had to deal with the Miami Dolphins hat in the offseason, and then the clothing issue during the season. We heard a lot about this, but the 49ers did not let it bother them, or at least did not let it bother them in a public manner.

I realize those 49ers examples are not quite the same as the media circus that will surround Michael Sam when he hopefully reports to the offseason workout program and training camp for his given team. There are different degrees to this, but that being said, I still agree with Stallworth that certain franchises have the personnel in place to deal with this kind of thing. The 49ers have struck me as that kind of franchise.

And while some might not like it, the Seahawks seem to be one of those kinds of franchises. There was all this media chatter about Richard Sherman being a distraction following the NFC Championship Game, but that proved to be bologna. And imagine if a team like the Cleveland Browns or some other sad sack franchise had all the positive PED and recreational drug tests we've seen in Seattle since 2010? It's shady behavior, but the franchise has actually done a good job not letting it be a distraction.

Off the field issues do not make life easier for any franchise. While there is no denying that, certain franchises have put themselves in a position to be better equipped to deal with this kind of stuff. And generally speaking, that involves a strong sense of leadership. Shockingly enough, these franchises with that strong leadership often end up being the better teams in the league. Whoulda thunk it?!