The third and final day of the 2014 NFL Draft was dominated by two storylines: Accomplished quarterbacks Aaron Murray (Georgia) and A.J. McCarron (Alabama) getting picked back-to-back in the fifth round, and then Missouri defensive end Michael Sam — potentially the first openly gay player in league history — getting picked at No. 249 by the St. Louis Rams.
While Sam’s selection is being touted as a positive step forward for pro sports and diversity in America, another cultural trailblazer with significantly less fanfare than Sam — Gallaudet University defensive end Adham Talaat — flew under the national media’s radar while going undrafted on Saturday.
Soon after the 256th and final pick was made in the draft, Talaat had already secured plans for a free-agent tryout with the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. If he makes the team, Talaat will become the league’s first Muslim, deaf, NCAA Division-III product.
The Seahawks were something of an expected landing spot for Talaat, as the team already employs fullback Derrick Coleman, a UCLA product who is the first and only deaf offensive player in NFL history.
According to NFL.com’s tracker, 42 defensive linemen were chosen over the draft’s seven rounds, including No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney. Some of them were smaller than Talaat, who measures 6-6 and 271 pounds. Some were slower than Talaat, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.87 seconds at his Pro Day workout. Some had less impressive stats than Talaat, who recorded 46 tackles and five sacks as a senior while facing constant double- and triple-team blocking schemes.
And you’d have to imagine some are not as healthy or as disciplined as Talaat, who as a Muslim does not smoke or drink, who fasts during daylight hours in the month of Ramadan, and who maintains a schedule in which he prays at least five times every day while keeping up with his responsibilities as a student and an athlete.
Because Talaat played at a D-III school (Gallaudet is the nation’s first college specifically for deaf and hard-of-hearing students) and faced a lower level of competition, there was always one convenient — and perfectly understandable — reason for NFL teams to pass on him. So in that regard Talaat is not like Sam, who not only played for a big-time football program but was also named SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year this past season. But you still have to wonder how much Talaat’s hearing impairment and how much his religion played in his going undrafted.
No one is saying any NFL team should have drafted Talaat because he’s deaf or because he’s Muslim. Contrary to what some people believe, marginalized and minority communities don’t want undeserved handouts and charity on that level. I can say personally that, as a Muslim, I don’t want Talaat to make an NFL roster simply to check off some box on a diversity checklist.
What I do want is the security in knowing that Talaat wasn’t kept off an NFL roster because he is deaf or because he is Muslim.