Michael Sam wants to talk about football at NFL combine

Missouri defensive end Michael Sam (at lectern) answers questions from reporters at the NFL scouting combine.
Missouri defensive end Michael Sam (at lectern) answers questions from reporters at the NFL scouting combine. (BRIAN SPURLOCK / USA TODAY Sports)
Posted: February 24, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS - Michael Sam introduced himself, even though an introduction was not required. He stared straight into a wall of cameras and wore a rainbow pin that read: "Stand with Sam."

"My name is Michael Sam. I play football for the University of Missouri," Sam said on Saturday. "As you may know, Missouri is the Show Me State, and you'd think I'd have shown you guys enough these last couple of weeks."

Sam announced two weeks ago he was gay. He is set to become the first openly gay, active NFL player. It's a label that has followed him to this week's NFL scouting combine. But Sam, the SEC co-defensive player of the year last season, is hoping that's not how he's known. He wants to talk football, not social pioneering.

"I just wish you guys would see me as Michael Sam the football player instead of Michael Sam the gay football player," Sam said.

He answered questions for more than 12 minutes. A woman at a university basketball game gave him the pin, and he expressed his appreciation for the support from the Mizzou community.

"I wanted to cry," Sam said, "but I'm a man."

When asked whether he would meet resistance in the NFL, Sam said he knows how to operate within a locker room and speak to teammates and coaches. He does not want teammates to worry about how they talk or act around him. If he encountered harassment or hostility, he said he would talk to the other person and try to solve the issue.

A report commissioned by the NFL to investigate the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Matin case revealed some homophobic behavior within the Miami Dolphins. That did not worry Sam, either, and he said he would be happy to join the Dolphins.

"I've been in locker rooms where all kinds of slurs have been said, and I don't think anyone means it," Sam said.

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said this past week that players are evaluated on they fit the Eagles scheme. He did not think Sam's sexual orientation would be a problem with the Eagles.

"I think we have a really good locker room, a good group of diverse players," Roseman said. "It's the ultimate melting pot. They do such a good job of coming together and figuring that out."

Coaches and general managers around the league have publicly shared similar sentiments over the last three days. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, a Hall of Fame tight end, said Sam has already proven that he can fit into a locker room. He said the question is how the media will respond when Sam joins a team.

The prevailing stance among decision makers was that Sam will be evaluated as a player, and that there are already many differences among players in NFL locker rooms.

"Even though everybody's different, it's a respect thing," Jets coach Ryan said. "If the young man's a good football player and a good teammate, that's all we ask. So he'd fit in just like the rest of our guys."

Views differ on Sam as a player. He was unquestionably productive at Missouri, finishing with 111/2 sacks for the Tigers in 2013. But he measured at 6-foot-2 and 261 pounds here, and there are questions about how effective he would be as a rush linebacker if he needed to play in a 3-4 base defense. Sam said he should be viewed as a pass rusher in whatever scheme a team runs, and the NFL always has a demand for pass rushers.

Sam started meeting with teams Saturday, and he will do so again Sunday. When he met with teams at the Senior Bowl in January, he said, his sexual orientation was not discussed. The questions were about football, and he became excited Saturday when reporters' questions veered toward the game.

Sam said that in a perfect world, he would have come out when he came to terms with his sexual orientation. He said it would be "just great" if others felt empowered to come out because of his announcement, but he just wants to play football.

"A trailblazer?" Sam said. "I feel like I'm Michael Sam."


zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm

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