Michael Sam, the only openly gay professional football player, was introduced at a news conference at Rams Park Tuesday.
Sam received unprecedented attention for a 249th pick in the NFL draft. He answered questions for nearly half an hour during the news conference. That's much longer than what even No. 2 draft pick, fellow St. Louis rookie, Greg Robinson, had to endure.
Sam answered numerous questions about how his personal life might affect his new teammates and his game. He kept his answers short and explained he’s ready to stop talking about his sexual orientation and let his work on the field speak for itself.
Coach Jeff Fisher says the team wasn't originally looking to add to its already deep defensive line. But when the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year was still left during the seventh round of this year's NFL draft, the team decided he was too valuable to not snatch up.
Sam got lots of praise after the Rams picked him with just seven spots left. But there were some haters too. Including fellow NFL player Don Jones from the Miami Dolphins. "When I put my pads on, and if someone wants to say something, then you're going to see number 96 running down that field and making big plays," Sam said. Sam was careful to say, he never hid his sexuality. He says, for his college team — the Missouri Tigers — it just wasn't a big deal.
Sam hopes the same will be true during his time with the Rams. But first, he'll actually have to make the team. Sam will have to prove himself at the month-long training camp that starts in late July.
Football fans, or not, observers share their reactions
We asked sources in the Pubic Insight Network to share what the Rams’ choice of Sam means to them. The following are representative of responses we received. Some have been edited for length or clarity.
Patricia Brennan, 70, retired health-care financial analyst, Collinsville
“I am not a sports fan, so maybe I should not even be commenting on this topic, but I feel strongly that this selection will help us get closer to being a society where a person can develop their talents and be recognized for their talent rather than being blocked from doing so by mindless bias.”
Bill Sharpless, 66, business owner, St. Louis
“Professional and college football profess to be about manliness — the modern gladiator. But it’s really about money, notoriety and mostly bad role models.
“There are probably many inspiring stories, yet the controlling interests fail to see the value in sharing them. Michael Sam represents a courageous role model in many ways, and his story is a reward for that courage. If the team finds a way to use his skills, I will probably be more interested in watching. What people do in their bedroom does not affect me.”
Scott Lohse, 56, United Church of Christ clergyman, Arnold
“I want for it to mean that he is just a young prospect chosen because he's deserving. I have a heightened sense of respect for the Rams for making this choice.
“I find myself simply wondering what other gay professionals are already in the game who might feel a new freedom to be themselves.”
Brian Larsen, 26, school teacher, Columbia, Mo.
“I think the Rams drafting Michael Sam is great not only for the Rams — he is the first SEC defensive player not picked in the first round in seven years — because they are getting a huge potential talent so late in the draft. Being a St. Louis native, but not a Rams fan, I'm sure this will increase the amount of time that I spend following the Rams.
“I have always thought that LGBT athletes certainly should not have to remain closeted in order to be accepted by their respective sports. I also think that as much of the country begins to shift in terms of their acceptance of the LGBT community, Michael Sam's draft pick is emblematic of that greater change in America.”
Steve Hoog, 53, musician, west St. Louis County
“As long as the athlete isn't directly having a negative impact on my life, what difference does it make? I might take advantage of any positive impact, but that is an irrelevant thought.”
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This report contains information gathered with the help of our Public Insight Network. If you would like to more responses we received to this query, or have insight to share on this topic, click here.
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