-- NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith blasted a group of anonymous NFL general managers and executives who reportedly believe that Michael Sam has damaged his draft stock by announcing that he is gay.
Smith conducted an interview Monday with CSN Washington, emphatically stating that any team official who anonymously downgrades Sam is "gutless."
Sam, an All-America pass-rusher at Missouri, announced he is gay during an interview Sunday with ESPN's "Outside The Lines." Assuming he is drafted, Sam would become the first openly gay player in NFL history.
Sam's announcement prompted two reports, one by si.com and one by mmqb.com, citing multiple league GMs who projected that the defensive end's draft stock would drop significantly. One of the general managers -- all of whom wished to remain anonymous -- told mmqb.com he doesn't think Sam will be drafted.
"When you contrast a group of anonymous GMs against a 24-year-old college player, it seems like only one of them had the guts to put his name behind his message," Smith told CSN Washington. "So my first reaction has nothing to do with Michael Sam. My reaction is to call those GMs for what they are -- they're gutless.
"If a young man has the courage to stand up and put his name and his face to talk about what he thinks is important, I would expect that a grown man can do exactly the same thing. But apparently they can't."
Smith also said that he hopes a team would not pass over Sam in the draft because of his sexual orientation.
"All I can hope is that that's not the case," Smith said. "This is a rare, select group of athletes who can perform and play at the highest of levels. And I think that any team or general manager that would be short-sighted enough to not have one of the best players on their team because of some personal bias is not only short-changing the teammates on that team but giving into the dark, horrible prejudices that we all expect that people no longer have.
"I'm not Pollyanna about it, certainly, but my hope would be that in the same way that every player is graded by what he can accomplish on the field, that would be exactly the same standard that you'd want to apply to every player."
Smith made his comments on the same day that NFLPA president Domonique Foxworth told ESPN's "Mike & Mike" that the union and NFL players will accept Sam with "open arms."
Smith echoed Foxworth's sentiments, saying that the NFLPA will be ready to support Sam "with both feet."
"This isn't a union that has had a tough time stepping in with two feet to protect the interests of its players," Smith said. "If there ever came a time where we believe that there was a need for us to do something for this player, or any player similarly situated, I'm sure the league wouldn't be surprised to see a letter from me coming across their desk."
Sam led the SEC with 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss last season, helping Missouri reach the SEC championship game.
Most NFL draft projections see Sam as a middle-round pick, with some saying he could go as high as the third round with a possible position switch to outside linebacker. Sam is ranked 12th among outside pass-rushers in the draft by ESPN Scouts Inc.
"I just want to go to the team who drafts me," Sam said Sunday. "Because that team knows about me, knows that I'm gay, and also knows that I work hard. That's the team I want to go to."