There are dozens of prospects at the NFL Scouting Combine hoping to prove they are ready to play professionally. However, Missouri defensive end Michael Sam might have been under the most scrutiny during his interviews.
The SEC Defensive Player of the Year publicly announced in interviews with Chris Connolly of ESPN's Outside the Lines and John Branch of The New York Times that he is gay. If drafted, he will be the first openly gay active player in league history.
Unsurprisingly, teams and the media had plenty of questions about this situation when Sam arrived at the combine. Chick Hernandez of CSN provided a look at all those present at the interview:
Per Jeff Legwold of ESPN, Sam made a powerful statement early on when he explained, "I just wish you guys would see me as Michael Sam, the football player, instead of Michael Sam, the gay football player."
He also explained that he is not afraid of playing in an atmosphere of alleged harassment like the one of the Miami Dolphins:
If [the] Miami Dolphins drafted me, I would be excited to be a part of that organization. I'm not afraid about going into that environment. I know how to handle myself, I know how to communicate with my teammates, I know how to communicate with coaches ... and whoever I need to communicate with.
Sam was asked how he would handle a teammate calling him a name in the locker room setting (via Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports):
Sam: "If someone wants to call me a name, then I'll have a conversation with that guy."— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) February 22, 2014
Sam also spoke in regard to the upcoming draft:
I am not a GM, I do not have control over my draft status. All I can control is preparing myself to get the best scores out there ... I'm a pass rusher, if you put me in a situation to get the quarterback, I'm going to get the quarterback. Whoever the coaches, the GMs, this league is a passing league, I like to believe in myself as a good pass rusher.
The general theme of the press conference seemed to be that he did not want any special treatment or even any added attention. Bruce Feldman of CBS provided another quote from the interview touching on the same subject:
Asked if he sees himself as a trailblazer, Michael Sam: "am I a trailblazer? I feel like I'm Michael Sam"— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) February 22, 2014
While the questions are certain to continue, all Sam can do is simply provide answers and do his best to improve as a football player. As for the media session itself, both Aaron Nagler and Matt Miller of Bleacher Report thought he handled it well:
Michael Sam is handling this really, really well.— Aaron Nagler (@Aaron_Nagler) February 22, 2014
You don't handle a press conference better than Michael Sam did.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 22, 2014
With the interview behind him, Sam now has to prove his worth on the field. As an undersized defensive end, it will be important to show off speed and agility during the combine workouts in order to help his draft stock.
According to CBS Sports, the Missouri star is listed as the No. 11 defensive end in the class and is projected to be drafted in the third or fourth round. Depending on his showing throughout the rest of the combine, this can change dramatically.
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