We've had two full seasons to get to know Jeff Fisher in St. Louis. That's more than enough time to learn who a coach is, how he coaches, his philosophies and how he handles players. So when Tony Dungy, somehow appointed the moral compass of the NFL, said he wouldn't want to deal with the distraction of the league's first openly gay player, Michael Sam, my first thought was of Fisher.
Enough has been said about Dungy's hypocritical and homophobic remark (nailed perfectly here and here). I do want to go back to the distraction part because I think it says something about the Rams and their decision to take Sam.
We said it back in May, when the Rams used a seventh-round pick on the Mizzou pass rushing prodigy, and it's worth saying again: Fisher's teams have a knack for giving players a chance, players who other teams don't want to add to their roster because of issues that have nothing to do with their ability to play football.
Teams skipped over North Alabama and former Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins for 38 picks in the 2012 NFL Draft. That left him for the Rams at No. 39. It's the kind of move Fisher's been making his entire career. Teams didn't want to spend a high pick on Jenkins because of his past issues off the field, a string of marijuana incidents and four kids with three different women. Distractions.
There are really two kinds of distractions, at least when it comes to what Dungy is talking about. There's the distractions off the field that can impact a player's ability to concentrate on football. With Jenkins, the hateful NFL draft rumor mongers speculated that his concentration might lapse because of concerns over exorbitant child support payments, or some crap like that. Then there's the distraction that Tony Dungy's talking about, something that impacts a locker room, basically the dumb "separate showers" argument that was brilliantly destroyed by PFT Commenter this spring.
Whatever the potential "distraction" is, Fisher's teams have never been especially daunted by them.
Why is that? There's a support network in place, a formal process for helping players do everything from manage money to staying out of trouble. But more importantly, Fisher's Rams just have a knack for empowering players, making them feel welcome and part of the team, regardless of whatever potential "distraction" they might be.
One example: They don't haze rookies, which isn't something a lot of teams can say. Fisher's clear that players are there for business. First year guys are made to feel like part of the team too, all players are.
That's not to say it's cart blanche on the field with Fisher. When news emerged that Sam could potentially be filming a reality show that included his time at training camp, Fisher and the coaching staff was not on board with that, according to someone familiar with the situation.
But the point is, Fisher's staff doesn't look at or treat a player differently because he's gay. Michael Sam's sexuality is not a distraction in the Rams' locker room, which makes Dungy's remarks sound dumb because they're out of touch with reality.