In his first news conference since announcing two weeks ago that he’s gay, Michael Sam began by stating his name and the college that he played for.
“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, a star defensive end, said Saturday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “But I’m learning with the media, you guys still want more.”
The media aren’t alone. In a short period of time, Sam has become a household name and pioneer of sorts, one who seemingly could not be more touched by the overwhelming amount of support he has received. A smile creased his lips when he was asked about the rainbow-colored pin he wore that said “Stand With Sam.”
“I went to (Missouri’s) basketball game against Tennessee (on Feb. 15),” said Sam, who received a standing ovation that afternoon at Mizzou Arena. “A very kind lady gave it to me and I gave her a hug.
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“I’ve got a lot of support out there.”
Sam’s announcement has raised plenty of questions about whether that would also be the case in an NFL locker room. Executives and coaches are rarely candid during combine interviews, but it’s worth noting that several, including two key members of the Chiefs’ brass, said Sam would be accepted just fine.
“If a guy can play football, he can play football,” Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said. “We evaluate everybody here at this combine to see if they can help the Kansas City Chiefs, and that’s the process we go through.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid seemed taken aback by the same question.
“I don’t get into any of that. I don’t really care about all of that,” Reid said. “I care that they’re good football players and good people.”
Sam said teams haven’t asked him about his sexual orientation during interviews. But the reality is that he’s not a sure fit for every team.
Sam, who played as a 4-3 defensive end at Missouri and measured in at 6 feet 2 and 261 pounds this weekend, tried playing outside linebacker at the Senior Bowl in January ... and struggled. That likely solidified his status as a situational pass-rusher out of a three-point stance, at least early in his career. For now, NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock currently slots Sam as a third- to fifth-round pick.
Whoever takes Sam also will be inviting the increased attention that’s sure to accompany the league’s first openly gay player, said Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome.
“The biggest thing is how the media is going to deal with him,” Newsome said. “This is something that’s new to the league. We all will have to adapt to it. I think our locker room has had the tendency to adapt to things a lot smoother than maybe the media does.”
Despite his newfound celebrity status, Sam said he has no endorsements, yet. He has worked hard to avoid the spotlight since coming out.
On Saturday, he said that he wished his sexual orientation wasn’t a story.
“Heck yeah,” he said. “I wish you guys would just say, ‘Michael Sam, how’s football going? How’s training going?’
“I wish you guys would just see me as Michael Sam the football player instead of Michael Sam the gay football player.”
At the same time, Sam understands why it is news, and why — in the wake of the Miami Dolphins’ bullying scandal — he is asked questions about locker-room culture and what he would do if he encountered the kind of harassment or hostility he says he never dealt with at Mizzou.
“I’ve been in locker rooms where all kinds of slurs have been said, and I don’t think anyone means it,” Sam said.“I think (some are) a little naive and uneducated, but as time goes on, everyone will adapt.
“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.”
For all the potential pitfalls that loom down the road, Sam appears buoyed by those who have expressed support since his announcement. The positive outweighs the negative, he said, and he was reminded of that when the same Mizzou community that kept his secret for months rained cheers upon him during that basketball game a week ago.
“I wanted to cry, but I’m a man,” Sam said. “So I just want to thank everyone who supported me, especially Mizzou, the students, my coaches, the whole organization and every Missouri fan.
“M-I-Z-Z-O-U: I’m a Tiger forever.”