Paula Deen has an odd way of proving she's not a racist -- she just dropped a metaphor ... comparing her n-word scandal to "that black football player who recently came out" ... aka NFL prospect Michael Sam.
Deen says she and Sam are in a similar struggle for acceptance ... because she feels like "embattled" or "disgraced" will always follow her name.
She told People magazine ... Sam wants to be known as a football player, not a gay football player -- and to drive home her point, she added, "I know exactly what he's saying."
Critics have been ripping Paula with comments like, "Maybe Michael Sam could compare himself to "that white, fat, redneck TV chef who used the n-word."
So we gotta ask ...