Michael Sam says his priority is helping the Montreal Alouettes win, not making history as the first openly gay player in the Canadian Football League.
Sam signed a two-year deal with the Alouettes last week.
“I’m not trying to really do anything historic here by being with Montreal, I’m just trying to help the team win some games so we can bring the Grey Cup back home,” Sam said at packed news conference Tuesday.
The 25-year-old Sam came out publicly before the 2014 NFL Draft. He was selected in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams, becoming the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team.
The Rams cut him in training camp. The Dallas Cowboys signed him to their practice squad but released him in October.
Sam starred at Missouri in college, earning SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2013.
Alouettes general manager Jim Popp, who called Sam a “trailblazing athlete,” said he believes the 6-foot-2, 260-pound player can excel as a pass rusher in the CFL.
“My size fits as a pass rusher,” Sam said. “I led my team in preseason in sacks, and that was in the NFL, so I’m a pass rusher. Doesn’t matter where I’m at.”
Sam was considered by NFL teams to be a “tweener,” not quite the right body type to be a defensive end or an outside linebacker for that league.
But Popp believes Sam can follow a path similar to Cameron Wake, who was converted from linebacker to end when he joined the B.C. Lions in 2007. Wake was the CFL Defensive Player of the Year in each of his two seasons before signing with the Miami Dolphins, where he has had a successful NFL career.
Sam came out to his Missouri teammates before his senior year.
“There was a reason why I came out to my team, because I didn’t want to live a life behind the closet anymore,” he said. “Eventually it was going to come out anyway, so I have no regrets. I’m happy with myself. I’m living my life the way I want to live.”
After he came out, Sam’s NFL jersey was an instant best-seller. The Alouettes already put his No. 94 jersey on sale on its website.
While Sam wants to be seen as just another football player, he knows his decision to reveal his sexuality comes with a certain responsibility.
“I’ve set in motion a lot of stuff,” he said. “I have a responsibility to handle myself the right way and carry myself the right way so future athletes who may be straight, gay, bisexual, whatever, they can be inspired just by what I’m doing.”