Michael Sam just wants to be a football player.
But that’s impossible.
He’s so much more. Sam is a pioneer and, as he has learned since telling the world he is gay earlier this month, he also is an inspiration to many.
Wearing a rainbow pin that read “I Stand With Sam,” the gregarious defensive end met the media at the NFL Scouting Combine on Saturday. The turnout was enormous for a player scouts see as a mid- to late-round draft prospect.
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Of course, newspapers, websites and TV stations from across the country didn’t come to hear him talk about spin moves or dropping in coverage.
“I wish you guys would just say, ‘Michael Sam, how’s football going? How’s training going?’ ” he told reporters. “I would love for you to ask me that question. But it is what it is.
“And I just wish you guys would just see me as Michael Sam the football player instead of Michael Sam the gay football player.”
Michael Sam the football player wouldn’t have drawn a fraction of the attention this week. But by going public with his sexuality, he has become a celebrity. He is set to become the first openly gay active player in NFL history.
Sam received a standing ovation at a home Missouri basketball game last week. That’s where a supporter gave him the pin that he wore on his NFL Combine credential lanyard.
“I hope all you guys ‘Stand With Sam,’ by the way,” said Sam, a 24-year-old from Texas. “Please do.”
So far, much of football has.
The NFL went out of its way to show its support after his announcement, and most every personnel director and coach who asked about him this week said Sam’s sexuality would not be an issue.
“That has no factor on how we grade,” new Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey said. “We grade guys on, will they be good football players? Good teammates? Good people that contribute to our community? The sexual orientation — that has no factor.”
Quipped Ravens front-office executive Ozzie Newsome, who in 2002 became the league's first black GM: “This is something that’s new to the league. We all will have to adapt to it. A locker room has had the tendency to adapt to things a lot smoother than maybe the media.”
Indeed, it was all they wanted to discuss Saturday.
Q. Are you worried about taunts from opposing fans?
A. “No. I've been getting a lot of great positive [feedback] from all kinds of fans. And you know when I’m on the field I really don’t focus on fans, so I just focus on my responsibilities, which is the guy right across from me.”
Q. Are you concerned about about homophobic slurs in the locker room?
A. “I've been in locker rooms where all kinds of slurs have been said and I don’t think anyone means it. I think [some people are] a little naive and uneducated, but as time goes on everyone will adapt.”
Q. What would you do if a teammate took it too far?
A. “If someone wants to call me a name, I will have a conversation with that guy and hopefully it won’t lead to nothing else.”
In all, Sam handled his first true media grilling quite well. Good thing, considering he can expect much of the same in the future.
He will be a curiosity when he gets drafted, when he reports to training camp, and when he finally steps foot on an NFL field. The team that drafts him will do so knowing the spotlight he will be under.
But that team also will get a great teammate, fellow Missouri draft prospect Kony Ealy said Saturday. “No other guy I’d rather go to war with,” Ealy said.
In less than three months, some team will add Sam to its cavalry. Might it be the Dolphins, who could use the public-relations boost after their toxic year of the bully?
If so, Sam would be just fine with it.
“If the Miami Dolphins drafted me I would be excited to be a part of that organization,” Sam said. “I'm not afraid of going into that environment. I know how to handle myself. I know how to communicate with my teammates. I know how to communicate with the coaches and other staff I need to communicate with.”