A little less than a month after publicly coming out as gay, former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam is finding new ways to commodify his newfound fame.
Sam announced a new personal merchandise line over the weekend on his Twitter feed. The items, which include numerous T-shirts and buttons, are adorned with #StandWithSam and #SamStrong slogans that have been popularized by fans since his announcement.
Designs for T-shirts include pictures from his time at Missouri, allusions to the gay-pride flag and a plain-white colorway with a simple #StandWithSam slogan.
Most of the items are in the $20-plus range, and Sam announced a portion of the proceeds will go to benefit at-risk youth in the St. Louis area:
A portion of the proceeds of all Michael Sam gear will be going to at-risk youth in the St. Louis area— Michael Sam (@MikeSamFootball) March 8, 2014
Sam, who came out last month across multiple media platforms, will become the first active openly gay NFL player in history if he is drafted and makes a roster. He follows in the trailblazing footsteps of NBA center Jason Collins, whose recent signing with the Brooklyn Nets made him the first openly gay active player in the United States' four major professional sports.
Since his announcement, Sam has gone from an anonymous likely midround draft pick to one of the most famous faces of the 2014 NFL draft. His combine workout was among the most heavily watched and scrutinized in recent memory, with his detractors looking for reasons to pick apart his game and supporters hoping he performed well enough to quiet the critics.
Unfortunately for Sam, his time in Indianapolis was more disappointing than inspiring.
While he wowed many, including Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman, in the interview process, Sam's athletic numbers were disappointing. His 4.91-second official 40-yard-dash time was among the worst at his position, and only UCLA's Cassius Marsh had fewer than Sam's 17 bench-press reps.
Dane Brugler of CBS Sports noted Sam's combine performance left his draft stock in question:
Michael Sam showed at the SR Bowl that he won't be a LB in the NFL. His times today back that up. Nickel rusher, not a lock to make a roster— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) February 24, 2014
The decision to release merchandise at this point could strike some as curious. Although it's a smart business move, one could easily argue it contradicts the football-first mentality Sam showed at the combine.
“I just wish you guys would just see me as Michael Sam the football player instead of Michael Sam the gay football player,” Sam told reporters.
That said, let's not get too worked up about some T-shirts and buttons. Some of the proceeds are going to a good cause, and if Sam profits from his notoriety, that's all the better for players who want to feel comfortable coming out in the future.