When Michael Sam became the first openly gay player drafted into the NFL on Saturday, ESPN's broadcast captured the former Missouri star's reaction, which included a kiss with his boyfriend. The act triggered a great deal of response around the social media world, some of which was vitriolic in nature.
Cameron Weiss, Sam's agent, spoke out in support of his client on Monday, noting that Sam is well-equipped for all opinions ignited by St. Louis Rams' landmark decision.
"He's got really broad shoulders, he can handle this," said Weiss, per a TMZ.com report. "He understands people are going to say positive and negative things. He's the perfect person to handle this."
Weiss had a specific message for former Ole Miss basketball standout Marshall Henderson, who initially tweeted his objection to the kiss before claiming he was helping his friend with a psychology project:
Boycotting sportscenter til this michael sam nasty ass shit is off .... My brothers are 7 and 11 and saw that!!! #SICKENING— marshall henderson (@NativeFlash22) May 12, 2014
Im sorry, but I DO NOT AGREE WHATSOEVER that should be shown to where innocent eyes can see!!!— marshall henderson (@NativeFlash22) May 12, 2014
One of my best friends, WHO IS GAY, is about to graduate in psychology, asked me to say these things so he can have responses ... TBC— marshall henderson (@NativeFlash22) May 12, 2014
THANK YOU MICHAEL SAM FOR STANDING UP FOR YOU AND MAKING THIS WHOLE PROJECT POSSIBLE!!! TRYING TO BRIDGE THE GAP ONE DAY AT A TIME!!— marshall henderson (@NativeFlash22) May 12, 2014
"I think Marshall needs to look in the mirror if he's concerned about setting a bad example for his brothers," said Weiss.
Whether or not Henderson was actually being sincere, he was not the only athlete to publicly oppose the kiss. As reported by ESPN.com's James Walker, the Miami Dolphins fined safety Don Jones for offensive remarks he made toward Sam on Twitter, which have since been deleted. Jones also issued an apology.
Former NFL running back Derrick Ward reacted negatively to the display of affection as well:
I'm sorry but that Michael Sam is no bueno for doing that on national tv. I'm fine with it being a new day in age but for him to do that on— Derrick Ward (@derrickward32) May 10, 2014
National tv is disgusting. Gay or not.— Derrick Ward (@derrickward32) May 10, 2014
Such comments from some had to be expected, but ultimately, those opinions matter little in comparison to those of Sam's new teammates and coaching staff. Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, for one, believes in his on-field talent, per ESPN's Colin Cowherd:
"We have tremendous respect for inclusion... in the end we took Michael Sam the football player." @STLouisRams coach Jeff Fisher— Herd w/Colin Cowherd (@TheHerd) May 12, 2014
There is certainly merit to Fisher's statement given that Sam was the co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year as a senior for the Tigers. However, a lackluster workout at the NFL combine and teams' wariness of added media attention undoubtedly caused his draft stock to slip.
Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com was one of many to question the late selection:
good job by rams picking michael sam in nfl draft. but why does best defensive player in best league wait to round 7?— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) May 11, 2014
Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman was told that one team ruled out taking Sam entirely:
Several NFL sources say one team removed Michael Sam from its board fearing he'd be a distraction. They wouldn't identify the team. #Dumb— mike freeman (@mikefreemanNFL) May 11, 2014
The defensive end's draft slide—he was picked in the seventh and final round at No. 249 overall—has provided Sam with plenty of motivation to prove his critics wrong:
Sam: "I knew I was going to get picked somewhere. Every team that passed me, I was thinking how I'm going to sack their quarterback."— St. Louis Rams (@STLouisRams) May 11, 2014
Sam: "From last season alone, I should've been in the first three rounds. SEC Defensive Player of the Year, All-American." #RamsDraft— St. Louis Rams (@STLouisRams) May 11, 2014
Will Michael Sam make the Rams' final roster?
Even with his impressive collegiate career, Sam has to prove himself against heightened competition to make St. Louis' roster. The Rams are already loaded in the front seven with star defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long, along with 2014 first-round defensive lineman Aaron Donald, but there should be a spot for Sam to contribute in Gregg Williams' aggressive defensive schemes.
While the media will continue to drive home the narrative of his sexuality, what Sam's NFL future will come down to is how he performs on the field.