Picking Sam, Rams welcome first openly gay player

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
31 PHOTOS
Michael Sam - updated 3/22/15
See Gallery
Picking Sam, Rams welcome first openly gay player
Montreal Alouettes defensive lineman Michael Sam speaks to reporters after returning to practice with the Canadian Football League team Monday, June 29, 2015, in Montreal. Sam, the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team, could not make the roster of the St. Louis Rams and signed with Montreal. He left the Alouettes for what he said were personal reasons, but returned to the team this week. (AP Photo/Jimmy Golen)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 16: NFL player Michael Sam and fiance` Vito Cammisano attend the premiere of ABC's 'Dancing With The Stars' season 20 at HYDE Sunset: Kitchen + Cocktails on March 16, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - APRIL 11: ***HOUSE COVERAGE*** Michael Sam at Azure Luxury Pool at The Palazzo in Las Vegas, NV on April 11, 2015. Credit: Erik Kabik Photography/Retna Ltd./MediaPunch/IPX
Jason Collins, left, and Michael Sam, right, attend the 26th Annual GLAAD Media Awards at the Waldorf Astoria on Saturday, May 9, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 09: Nominee Jason Collins, Chris Stone and Michael Sam attend the 26th Annual GLAAD Media Awards In New York on May 9, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for GLAAD)
ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 06: NFL player Michael Sam attends the SEC Championship game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Missouri Tigers at the Georgia Dome on December 6, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 16: Vito Cammisano and NFL player Michael Sam attend The 2014 ESPYS at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on July 16, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images For ESPYS)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 16: NFL player Michael Sam accepts the Arthur Ashe Courage Award onstage during the 2014 ESPYS at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on July 16, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Defensive End Michael Sam, from Missouri, runs through a drill during the NFL Super Regional Combine football workout, Sunday, March 22, 2015, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Dallas Cowboys practice squad player defensive end Michael Sam speaks to reporters after team practice at the team's headquarters Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, in Irving, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Defensive end Michael Sam, from Missouri, moves around a pylon during the NFL Super Regional Combine football workout, Sunday, March 22, 2015 in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Dallas Cowboys Michael Sam, center, talks on the field before the start of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Dallas Cowboys' Michael Sam laughs before an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Dallas Cowboys practice squad player defensive end Michael Sam (46) looks around the field during team practice Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, in Irving, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
EARTH CITY, MO - MAY 13: St. Louis Rams draft pick Michael Sam addresses the media during a press conference at Rams Park on May 13, 2014 in Earth City, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - AUGUST 28: Defensive end Michael Sam #96 of the St. Louis Rams warms up prior to action against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium on August 28, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 16: Defensive end Michael Sam #96 of the St. Louis Rams in action during the preseason game against the Green Bay Packers at Edward Jones Dome on August 16, 2014 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 8: Michael Sam #96 of the St. Louis Rams watches from the bench during the second half of a pre-season against the New Orleans Saints game at the Edward Jones Dome on August 8, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Saints beat the Rams 26-24. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dallas Cowboys practice squad player defensive end Michael Sam (46) runs a drill during team practice Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, in Irving, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 24: Former Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam looks on during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 24, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
The most worthwhile things in life rarely come easy, this is a lesson I've always known. The journey continues.
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - Robin Roberts talks to Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, the first openly gay player who might be drafted into the NFL, on GOOD MORNING AMERICA, airing WEDNESDAY, MAY 7 (7-9am, ET) on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Ida Mae Astute/ABC via Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 24: Former Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam takes part in positions drills during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 24, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 24: Former Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam looks on during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 24, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 22: Former Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam speaks to the media during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 22, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
FILE - In this Sept. 8, 2012 file photo, Missouri's Michael Sam (52) runs onto the field along with their teammates before the start of an NCAA college football game against Georgia in Columbia, Mo. Sam was selected in the seventh round, 249th overall, by the St. Louis Rams in the NFL draft Saturday, May 10, 2014. The Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year last season for Missouri came out as gay in media interviews this year. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 15, 2014, file photo, Missouri's All-American defensive end Michael Sam claps during the Cotton Bowl trophy presentation at halftime of an NCAA college basketball game between Missouri and Tennessee in Columbia, Mo. Sam was selected in the seventh round, 249th overall, by the St. Louis Rams in the NFL draft Saturday, May 10, 2014. The Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year last season for Missouri came out as gay in media interviews this year. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson, File)
Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam (52) warms up before the Cotton Bowl NCAA college football game against Oklahoma State, Friday, Jan. 3, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tim Sharp)
FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2013, file photo, Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam takes up his position during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Texas A&M in Columbia, Mo. Sam was selected in the seventh round, 249th overall, by the St. Louis Rams in the NFL draft Saturday, May 10, 2014. The Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year last season for Missouri came out as gay in media interviews this year. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam (52) reacts after Auburn fumbled and Missouri recovered during the first half of the Southeastern Conference NCAA football championship game, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION


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.
Read Full Story

People are Reading