The NFL draft — the league’s Radio City-staged, nationally televised, endlessly hyped off-season spectacle — opens Thursday night, and for the first time an openly gay player will be waiting for a phone call.

But it could be a long wait for Michael Sam, the University of Missouri defender and all-American who came out in February. Draft analysts say he might not be selected until the last picks are made on Saturday — and perhaps not at all.

 

If that happens, Sam could still sign with a team as an undrafted free agent and play on Sundays this fall. But it would pose a public-relations problem for the NFL, the most profitable league in America, which has never had an openly gay player.

“For them not to select him would be very problematic,” said Cyd Zeigler, the founder of OutSports.com, which published an insider account of Sam’s coming out three months ago. Fairly or not, he said, “If he isn’t selected, it’s a public black eye on the league.”

MORE: http://www.nbcsports.com/football/nfl/nfl-draft-5-things-get-ready