It’s a storyline that’s bound to be scrutinized — even over-scrutinized — during Rams training camp, as the roster cuts are made and, if Michael Sam sticks on the 53-man roster, week by week during the NFL season.
By now, surely every football fan is aware that Sam, a former Missouri defensive end and the reigning co-SEC defensive player of the year, became the first openly gay player drafted into the NFL.
Former Buccaneers and Colts coach Tony Dungy, who now serves as an in-studio analyst for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” pregame show, weighed in, telling the Tampa Tribune, “I wouldn’t have taken him. Not because I don’t believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn’t want to deal with all of it. It’s not going to be totally smooth … things will happen.”
Sam was considered by many a mid-round pick after matching the Tigers’ single-season record with 11 1/2 sacks as a senior. He finished with 48 tackles, including 19 for a loss, along with two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
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Sam, whose sack and forced fumble in the closing minutes helped ice Missouri’s Cotton Bowl victory against Oklahoma State, was a unanimous first-team All-American.
Still, after Sam publicly disclosed his sexual orientation in mid-February and then struggled at the NFL Combine, his stock fell. He eventually was drafted 249th overall, with the 34th pick in the seventh round, by the Rams.
General manager Les Snead and coach Jeff Fisher seem to be aware of the history being made and, far from shying away, understand the increased scrutiny Sam brings to the organization.
Sam, of course, isn’t the first gay player in an NFL locker room. He’s just the first openly gay player, but the Rams are saying all the right things as far as his attempt to play pro football.
“There’s a 90-man roster right now,” Rams wide receiver T.J. Moe, who was Sam’s teammate at Missouri, said in the Tampa Tribune article. “It doesn’t go 89, and the Michael Sam’s over there — this is the gay team, this is the straight team. Michael Sam is on the team and he’s treated just like anyone else.”
While Dungy said Sam should have a chance to play, in 2007, he “embraced” Indiana’s proposed ban on same-sex marriage.
Dungy also supported another player who was the attention of intense media scrutiny, Tim Tebow. Dungy said he would spend a top-10 pick on the former Florida quarterback before the 2010 NFL Draft.
Even after Tebow was released in April 2013 by the Jets, Dungy continued to voice his support.
Tebow did not play in the NFL last season and, although he reportedly hasn’t given up hope for an NFL career, signed a multiyear deal in December with ESPN to be an analyst on the forthcoming SEC Network.