INDIANAPOLIS – Missouri defensive end Michael Sam wore a pin on his NFL combine credential lanyard on Saturday during his news conference.
It read, “Stand with Sam.”
“I went to the basketball game [at Missouri] against Tennessee; a very kind lady gave it to me, and I gave her a hug and I got a lot of support out there,” Sam said.
He’ll soon become the first openly gay player in the NFL. During his first news conference since he made the Feb. 10 announcement, Sam openly discussed questions regarding his sexuality even as he attempts to improve his draft stock like every other player at the event.
“I just wish you guys would just see me as Michael Sam the football player instead of Michael Sam the gay football player,” Sam said.
Sam said he hasn’t watched any of the national attention his announcement has received. Sam made his first public appearance last week during Missouri’s men’s basketball game against Tennessee, where he received the pin.
“I love Mizzou; one of the best schools in the nation, and after what they did this past weekend it was just amazing,” Sam said. “I wanted to cry, but I’m a man.”
Sam’s presence in a locker room brings questions about whether the NFL can handle an openly gay player. He told his teammates at Missouri before last season that he was gay and the Tigers finished 12-2. Sam was the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year in his best collegiate season.
Sam said he wouldn’t even be afraid if he was drafted by the Dolphins, who dealt with bullying issues in the locker room last year that caused offensive lineman Jonathan Martin to leave the team. His teammates were able to make jokes about Sam’s sexuality in the locker room, he said, because he understood their intentions weren’t harmful.
“If someone wants to call me a name I’ll have a conversation with that guy and hopefully it won’t lead to anything else,” Sam said.
The Vikings have also been at the center of an independent review regarding allegations made by former punter Chris Kluwe that special teams coordinator Mike Priefer made anti-gay remarks. Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said he would make sure that the locker room atmosphere would be one that suits Sam if the franchise drafted him.
“I think most of the players, they want guys that are going to help them win ballgames for us, regardless if they’ve got three heads or not,” Spielman said. “Guys who come in and help you win ballgames, that’s what we’re looking for.”
Sam said it’d be great if his announcement opens the door for other gay players to come out, but that’s not his priority. His biggest concern has been focusing on his future football career.
Sam has been projected as high as a third-round pick given his ability to rush the quarterback and the lack of pass rushers in this draft. He has the skill set of a defensive end but the size of a linebacker, which has been the biggest knock against him.
“I’m a pass rusher,” Sam said. “If you put me in a situation to get the quarterback, I’m going to get the quarterback. Whoever coaches or GMs, this league is a passing league, I’d like to believe in myself as a good pass rusher.”
Sam said teams haven’t asked him about his sexual orientation, which would be against NFL rules, and wants to persuade them that his work ethic is equal to or even better than the rest of his competition.
And he hopes everyone else would view him the same way. Michael Sam, the football player.
“Since I’m not on an NFL active roster, that’s my only thought — to be on that roster,” Sam said. “That’s my 100 percent focus on this. I’m not focusing on anything else but to earn my spot on an NFL team.”