Michael Sam probably could not have scripted it any better.
The University of Missouri defensive end, the first-ever openly gay college football player, was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round of this weekend's draft. Some projected Sam as a fourth-round talent, so his selection with the 249th pick could be seen as a disappointment.
However, a supportive head coach, a local team and a smaller market all will serve Sam well at the next level.
Sam's excitement was obvious to the millions of fans who tuned in to see the defining moment in the history of the NFL, and he has every reason to be happy.
Rams head coach Jeff Fisher is renowned for his uniquely strong relationships with his players. Fisher spent an incredible 16 seasons at the helm of the Tennessee Titans, and he has experience building a tight-knit group of players while also handling the intense scrutiny of the media.
Also, Fisher is a co-chair of the NFL Competition Committee, so he has a great understanding of the climate of the league and whether it is ready for its first openly gay player.
Sam's fight to make the team in training camp would present a challenging situation to any head coach, as cutting such a high-interest player has many consequences related to public relations. But there are few men who are more trustworthy to handle this kind of situation as gracefully and deftly as Fisher.
Fisher left most of his discussion of Sam to the football field, however, telling the NFL Network that the Rams simply "drafted a good football player."
For this, Sam should be grateful. Fisher will be able to handle the media in Sam's stead while also creating a welcoming environment in the locker room of one of the youngest teams in the league, letting Sam focus on football and making the Rams roster.
Also, the team's location just a couple hours' drive away from Sam's alma mater in Columbia, Missouri. While Sam had not yet come out to the public during his four years at Missouri, it is reasonable to conclude that the local fans and media have become used to Sam and his story over the past few months.
His arrival in St. Louis will not be a giant ordeal like it would have been if he had joined a team thousands of miles away. Instead, Sam's presence will almost be business as usual for Rams fans and local media.
It is also important to note that St. Louis is not as large of a market as cities like New York or Chicago. If Sam had been selected by the Giants, Jets, or Bears, the onslaught of media attention would have significantly dwarfed what he will experience with the Rams.
Thanks to Jeff Fisher, the local team and its smaller market, Sam will have the opportunity to devote as much of his attention as possible to football—the most important conclusion to all of this. Despite being the co-Defensive Player of the Year in the powerful SEC, racking up sacks and leading his team to an appearance in the SEC title game, Sam was exposed by the NFL combine and further film evaluation as a late-round talent.
For someone who is undersized for a 4-3 defensive end position at 6'2", Sam does not possess the explosion, quickness or top-flight speed to become a pass-rushing outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive system.
Instead, Sam must settle for the opportunity to prove his worth in training camp, working his way up from the dregs of the depth chart and into the final 53-man roster. There is no place better for him to do that than in St. Louis.
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