DeMaurice Smith addressed reporters before the Super Bowl. (Alex Trautwig / Getty Images)

DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the National Football League Players Association, stood up forcefully for one of the athletes he soon may represent.

Smith ripped NFL general managers and executives for their “gutless” anonymous comments Michael Sam had damaged his draft position by announcing that he is gay.

“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.”

Sam, an all-America defensive lineman at Missouri, announced that he is gay in interviews with ESPN and the New York Times. The SEC defensive player of the year, he’d been projected as a third- or fourth-round draft pick before his announcement. Afterward, executives told and that his stock would drop — and that he may possibly go undrafted.

“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.”