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Picking Sam, Rams welcome first openly gay player



BY RALPH D. RUSSO
AP COLLEGE FOOTBALL WRITER

NEW YORK (AP) -- Michael Sam waited and waited. Hours passed, rounds came and went, and eventually, there were only eight more picks left on the third and final day of the NFL draft.

For just a moment, it looked as if his chance of being picked by a pro team and becoming the league's first openly gay player might take a detour. Or at least be delayed.

The call finally came in Saturday from the St. Louis Rams, the team right down the road from where Sam played his college ball at the University of Missouri.

Sam was selected in the seventh and final round and admitted it was a frustrating wait. He said teams that passed on him chickened out and he should have been drafted sooner.

"From last season alone, I should've been in the first three rounds. SEC Defensive Player of the Year, All-American," Sam said. He stopped short of directly saying his stock dropped in the draft because he came out.

Michael Sam's Emotional Reaction


"You know what, who knows? Who knows? Only the people who sit in the war room know," he said. "They saw Michael Sam, day after day they scratched it off the board. That was their loss. But St. Louis kept me on that board. And you know what I feel like I'm a (Jadeveon) Clowney, a first draft pick. I'm proud of where I am now."

Sam came out as gay in media interviews earlier this year. His team and coaches knew his secret and kept it for his final college season. He went on to have the best year of his career: He was the co-defensive player of the year in the nation's best college football conference and had 11.5 sacks.

The pick came after several rounds of suspense. The first round of the day, No. 4 overall, came and went, no Sam. Then the fifth and sixth, and finally, the day was down to just a handful of picks.

When Mike Kensil, the NFL's vice president of game operations, walked to the podium at Radio City Music Hall in the draft's final minutes to announce the Rams' second-to-last pick, the crowd got a sense something was up. Very few of the last day picks were announced at the podium. Twitter lit up with suggestions the Rams were about to make news.

When Kensil said: "The St. Louis Rams select ... Michael Sam..." the fans gave a hearty cheer, chanting "Yes! Yes! Yes!" and "Michael Sam!"

Sam was in San Diego watching with friends and family at the home of his agent, Joe Barkett of Empire Athletes. ESPN and the NFL Network had cameras there and showed Sam's reaction.

Sam was on the phone bending over, with his boyfriend hugging him and rubbing his left bicep. When Sam got off the phone, the tears started. He gave his boyfriend a big kiss and a long hug as he cried and his eyes reddened. After, they shared cake - and another kiss.

"Thank you to the St. Louis Rams and the whole city of St. Louis. I'm using every once of this to achieve greatness!!" Sam tweeted with a frenzied typo moments after he was picked, with a picture of himself wearing a Rams cap and a pink polo shirt.

The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Sam was considered a mid-to-late round pick, far from a sure thing to be drafted. He played defensive end in college, but he's short for that position in the NFL and slower than most outside linebackers, the position he'll need to transition to at the professional level.

He was taken with the 249th overall pick out of 256. Players from Marist, Maine and McGill University in Canada were selected before Sam.

"In the world of diversity we live in now, I'm honored to be a part of this," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said during an interview on ESPN.

The NFL had no comment on Sam being drafted.

The impact of Sam's selection goes far beyond football. At a time when gay marriage is gaining acceptance among Americans, Sam's entry into the NFL is a huge step toward the integration of gay men into professional team sports. Pro sports have in many ways lagged behind the rest of society in acceptance.

"Michael Sam wouldn't have been drafted five years ago," said former Viking punter Chris Kluwe, who has accused Minnesota of cutting him in part because of his vocal support for gay rights.

In the last year, NBA veteran Jason Collins has come out publicly as gay, and is now playing for the Brooklyn Nets. Collins said before the Nets' playoff game against the Heat that he was watching the draft and texted Sam after he was picked.

"It's a great day for Michael and his family and for the NFL," Collins said.

Publicly, most people in and related to the NFL have been supportive of Sam. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said Sam would be welcome in the league and judged solely on his ability to play. A few wondered whether teams would be reluctant to draft Sam because of all the media attention that would come with it.

Fair or not, the NFL - coming off a season in which a bullying scandal involving players on the Miami Dolphins was one of the biggest stories in sports - was looking at a possible public relations hit if Sam was not drafted. He would likely have been signed as a free agent and given a chance to make a team in training camp, but to many it would have looked as if he was being rejected.

Now that he's there, it could be seen as an opportunity for the NFL to show that crass locker room culture is not as prevalent as it might have looked to those who followed the embarrassing Dolphins scandal. But all the reaction to Sam's news wasn't positive from the league.

Miami safety Don Jones posted a one-word tweet, "Horrible" shortly after Sam was drafted. It was later taken down. The team's general manager said he was aware, and was disappointed.

Wade Davis, a gay former NFL player who is now the executive director of the gay rights advocacy group "You Can Play," said that Sam only needs to do his job to have an impact beyond the field.

"Michael Sam doesn't have to be a vocal advocate (for gay rights)," Davis said. "His visibility is his advocacy."

---

Follow AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo atWWW.TWITTER.COM/RALPHDRUSSOAP

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about ourPRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

Join the discussion

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John May 11 2014 at 3:39 PM

this person is sick

Flag Reply +12 rate up
1 reply
andebaron John May 11 2014 at 3:42 PM

...So how many times did you watch the vid of him eating cake off his boyfriend's mouth? ROFL

Flag Reply +2 rate up
trbgd May 11 2014 at 3:41 PM

I think we know who the catcher is in this relationship

Flag Reply +7 rate up
garo4321 May 11 2014 at 3:42 PM

Get ready ,
We'll be seeing more and more pictures like this .

Flag Reply +5 rate up
write2chance May 11 2014 at 3:43 PM

That sh*t aint right.

Flag Reply +8 rate up
riverhosed May 11 2014 at 3:44 PM

I that he was good ball player and had it together. And then the victim crap started.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
Lou May 11 2014 at 3:44 PM

Sad world

Flag Reply +7 rate up
susandanielspi May 11 2014 at 3:47 PM

Gag.

Flag Reply +8 rate up
dimag56in41 May 11 2014 at 3:47 PM

is it 1964....or 2014?......I forget

get over it people......he'd kick all your ass's anyway

Flag Reply +2 rate up
3 replies
lalalexm1 May 11 2014 at 3:48 PM

So he's gay. B.F.D. Does that mean that I am suppose to like the Rams now? I think not. If he can play in the big league good for him. Just do not try to ram the fact that he is gay down our throats. I wish him well but I do not have to be his fan or like him for that matter. I could care less about his sexual preferences. What if he was a Christian would you people love him just as much?

Flag Reply +2 rate up
1 reply
john lalalexm1 May 11 2014 at 4:09 PM

Answer...yes if he was christian he is welcome but dont expect to be rewarded for being gay expect that we are going to try and lead you to the right side of the road and to heaven...we try to save folks from hell...God Bless Him...

Flag Reply +1 rate up
hkinsurance1 May 11 2014 at 3:50 PM

I hate the victim stuff. Had Clowney said he was gay he still would've been drafted 1st overall. Sam is a good player, but obviously not a great. Now it's time for him to prove his worth, make a team, and try to PROVE WITH HIS ABILITY that the teams that passed made a mistake.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
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