History is made but Sam's focus is on the game

NFL's first openly gay draft is unveiled by St Louis Rams amid much media clamour but he insists that he just wants to make the team

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 May, 2014, 8:59pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 May, 2014, 8:59pm


The overflow crowd at Rams Park did not intimidate Michael Sam.

He seemed almost anxious for the attention and scrutiny.

The first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team was confident and engaged as he was formally introduced by the St Louis Rams, handling questions and scrutiny with aplomb well beyond that of a typical seventh-round pick.

"I'm determined to be great," Sam said. "I understand that right now you guys want to make a big deal of it."

Sam came out to teammates and coaches before his senior season at Missouri.

Whether you're gay, straight, black or white, it's OK to be comfortable in your own skin
Michael Sam

"Apparently, everybody else makes a big deal out of it," he said. "But my teammates and my school didn't."

"It's OK to be who you are," Sam said. "Whether you're gay, straight, black or white, it's OK to be comfortable in your own skin."

After getting the go-ahead from owner Stan Kroenke and making the pick on Saturday, Rams coach Jeff Fisher called it a "second historic moment" for a franchise that signed running back Kenny Washington in 1946 as the NFL's first black player in the modern era.

Sam has had a few months to get accustomed to the role of trailblazer instead of a silent star.

Sure, he's a role model. Right now he'd much rather be the Rams' description of "designated pass rusher".

"I will always support equality, period," Sam said.

"But my job is to focus on football and help this team win a championship."

The appearance of perhaps the most famous seventh-round pick in NFL history attracted a massive amount of people.

A half-dozen TV trucks lined a crammed parking lot at Rams Park, an hour before the team's two first-round picks were due at the podium.

About 80 media members attended the news conferences.

"There's some energy here," general manager Les Snead said with a smile between rounds of interviews. "But I don't think this is a circus. This deserves attention, but we'll get it over and we'll get to work."

Sam shared the dais with five other players taken in the sixth and seventh rounds on Saturday as the draft came to a close.

Everyone seemed eager to embrace Sam.

Second-round pick Lamarcus Joyner, a cornerback from Florida state, has never had an openly gay teammate. He applauded Sam's decision.

"He's a courageous young man," Joyner said. "He's a brave young man that we need in this organisation."

The team's two first-round picks were first to the podium. Both welcomed Sam to the family.

Robinson and Sam did a TV commercial together for a credit card company.

Aaron Donald met Sam at presentation ceremonies for the Lombardi and Nagurski awards.

"He's a cool guy," Donald said. "He's a football player, he works his butt off and that's what you want. You want playmakers around you and he's a playmaker.

Sam will put on the pads later in the week when the team holds a three-day rookie orientation.

The Rams drafted Sam even though they didn't need help at their defensive end, where they have a pair of first-round picks as starters.

Robert Quinn was second in the NFL with 19 sacks last season and Chris Long has been a standout since getting chosen second overall in 2008.

But the Rams were well-stocked with picks, finishing with 11 selections, putting them in a unique position to make history.

"Shortly before we got to our pick, Michael's value as a football player was off the charts," Fisher said. "He has an opportunity now to come in and compete to try to make our team."

Sam realises it's up to him to make the most of this chance, and he bristled at the naysayers who contend he's in the NFL only because he came out.

"Will I make the cut?" he said, repeating a question. "You want to find out in a couple months, huh?"