Michael Sam is coming into the NFL draft as the league’s first openly gay player, a label he is trying to minimize, while at the same time accept and embrace.
“Good afternoon. My name is Michael Sam, and I play football for the University of Missouri. As you may know, Missouri is the ‘Show Me State,’ and I think I’ve shown you guys enough in the past couple of weeks. But I’m learning about the media, and you guys still want more, so ask your questions, and I’ll answer them the best I can.”
Those words where how Michael Sam began his NFL scouting combine media time. When Sam stepped up to the podium no one asked directly about his sexual preference, but one of the questions he was asked was “Are you a trailblazer?”.
“No,” he replied, “I feel like I’m Michael Sam.”
The NFL prospect came across as genuine, humble, and honest according to reports from several sources, including ESPN who referred to Michael Sam as “…composed, witty, engaging. He handled himself the way he’s going to have to handle himself in the days, weeks and months ahead…”.
The wit and composure Michael Sam showed on the podium while fielding questions from the media is a big step for the young man in establishing his character to NFL teams around the league. Already he seems to be leaving an impression on some of the league’s leadership.
Baltimore Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome seems convinced that dealing with a locker room full of teammates shouldn’t be a problem for Sam, as he’s already handled himself well at Missouri, where his sexual preference wasn’t exactly top secret. Newsome seemed more concerned for how Sam would be perceived by the public, namely the media.
“He’s been a good player, he’s been in the locker room, it’s what you, the media, what are y’all going to do with him,” Newsome said. “Once he gets in, and he can rush the quarterback, get the quarterback on the ground and make tackles, he’s going to be a good teammate. The biggest thing is how the media is going to deal with it.
After announcing publicly that he was gay, Michael Sam knew that going into the combine he would need to be prepared for a potential media circus, as well as additional scrutiny of his ability to play football. Sam was the SEC co-defensive player of the year at Missouri his final season, recording 11.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles. He led the league in both categories. Even so, his 6’1″ 260 pound frame has left him as a bit of a wildcard when it comes to what his role on an NFL team may be. Many analysts see him as a third-down only pass rush specialist, while also noting that his size may see him moved from defensive end to an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive scheme.
According to NFL.comMichael Sam ran a 4.90 in the 40 yard dash at the NFL scouting combine, ranking him 18th among the 42 defensive ends with which he participated in combine drills. The time was only slightly above average for the defensive ends group and slower than Sam was hoping for if he hopes to overcome his perceived small stature at DE by moving to outside linebacker. Most NFL analysts currently have Michael going somewhere in rounds 3-5 as a pass rush specialist.
Regardless of where he is drafted and how he performs on the field, there is likely to be a spotlight on Michael Sam for quite some time, and standing at the podium at the NFL scouting combine he seemed to shine in the bright light.
“I wish you guys would see me as Michael Sam the football player, not as Michael Sam the gay football player.”
[Images courtesy of: Indystar, SI.com]