Former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam became the first openly-gay player to be drafted by an NFL franchise when the St. Louis Rams selected him with the 249th overall pick in the seventh round Saturday.
The Rams announced the pick:
Michael Sam took to Twitter to thank the Rams organization and ESPN captured an emotional moment with Sam and his family and friends after he heard the news:
Thank you to the St. Louis Rams and the whole city of St. Louis. I'm using every once of this to achieve greatness!! pic.twitter.com/QESdOJVzsw— Michael Sam (@MikeSamFootball) May 10, 2014
St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Jim Thomas has more from Sam:
1 last Sam quote: "I'm telling you, no one has the (testicles) that St. Louis had. And I'm proud to give everything I've got for St. Louis"— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) May 11, 2014
Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman provides Rams coach Jeff Fisher's reaction:
Jeff Fisher on drafting Michael Sam to espn: "In the world of diversity we live in now, I'm honored to be a part of this."— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) May 10, 2014
After the draft, Fisher and Les Snead held a press conference with the Rams providing quotes via Twitter:
Snead: "We like to feed our beast of the DL. Obviously this guy's production and play speaks for itself." #RamsDraft— St. Louis Rams (@STLouisRams) May 11, 2014
Fisher on drafting SEC DPOY in 7th: "I like to think that pretty much sums up our draft. We're very excited about how things came off."— St. Louis Rams (@STLouisRams) May 11, 2014
Fisher also touched on Sam's role with the defense and the team:
Fisher referring to Michael Sam & Kenny Washington: "This is the second historic moment in the history of this franchise." #RamsDraft— St. Louis Rams (@STLouisRams) May 11, 2014
Fisher: "We're in an age of diversity. Players understand that. They know that." #RamsDraft— St. Louis Rams (@STLouisRams) May 11, 2014
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport sheds light on which teams Sam was planning to target had he not been drafted by the Rams:
Perhaps no player aside from No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel received more attention than Sam throughout the pre-draft process. Some of that related to his ability as a football player, but there is no doubt that his decision to announce that he is gay bolstered the media buzz.
The significance of Sam being the NFL's first openly gay active player isn't lost on anyone. It will inevitably be a talking point attached to his career, but the length of that career will be based upon what he does on the field.
Sam's first three seasons at Missouri were modest, but he broke out in a big way in 2013 to the tune of 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss, which netted him SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Even though Sam thrived in the country's toughest conference, there are still concerns regarding his NFL viability. His 6'2", 261-pound frame could prove troublesome at the defensive end position and his 4.91 40-yard dash time at the NFL Scouting Combine caused concerns about his ability to move to outside linebacker.
Since Sam's pre-draft workouts didn't go particularly well, there was some speculation that he would go undrafted. Charles Davis of Fox Sports was one of the analysts who made a case to debunked that theory, per College Football 24/7:
The big argument in Sam's favor is that he is an in-game player rather than a workout warrior. That is underscored by the assessment of Big Ten Network's Russell Lande, who felt as though Sam was more impressive than Missouri teammate Kony Ealy:
4 games in I do not see the hype for Kony Ealy to be a high draft pick. Michael Sam jumped off film more in games evaluated.— Russell Lande (@RUSSLANDE) March 5, 2014
Ealy was drafted in the second round, 60th overall. Whether or not Sam is able to outperform Ealy in the pros remains to be seen, but Sam will be given an opportunity to prove that he is a capable NFL player. Sam has made it perfectly clear that all he wants is a chance. He told Don Banks of Sports Illustrated he is hopeful that his sexual orientation has no bearing on his NFL career.
"I just wish you guys would just see me as Michael Sam the football player instead of Michael Sam the gay football player," Sam said.
The media may still continue to cover Sam's football career as symbol of social change, but the main thing that truly matters is the manner in which Sam's NFL teammates treat him.
NFL Players Association president Domonique Foxworth believes that Sam will be welcomed, as he told ESPN.com:
The team's gonna build up around their teammate, and it's going to galvanize the team. Everyone's talking about how this could disrupt the locker room. Some NFL locker rooms need disrupting, to be frank. Coaches go through a lot of different things to try to build a bond between the team, and what's going to build a bond more than having a player that all the guys know is kind of a target for opposing fans and maybe a target for opposing players?
That type of stuff is what makes you build up around a guy, and Missouri seemed to have a pretty good season. So I expect whatever team he goes to is not going to be adversely affected. If anything, they could be positively affected by adding a man like that.
What level will Michael Sam reach in the NFL?
The fact that Sam already has a ringing endorsement from such an important figure obviously bodes well for his chances at NFL success. Even if Sam is received with open arms, though, he must prove that he belongs through his on-field performance.
Despite being undersized and perhaps lacking some speed, Sam was a dominant force at the highest level of college football. That doesn't guarantee NFL success, but it suggests that he has the grit and determination to be a factor.
Sam is about to get the chance that he has earned, and his track record suggests that he will do everything in his power to make the most of it.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter