The opening press conference for St. Louis Rams defensive end Michael Sam and other team rookies took place Tuesday. All eyes were on the former Missouri star, though, as Sam addressed the media as the NFL's first openly gay player.
Sam, the SEC co-Defensive Player of the Year, was selected in the seventh round at No. 249 overall in the 2014 NFL draft and provided his reaction to the watershed moment of introduction to the league, per BuzzFeed Sports:
"I guess it's great!" - Michael Sam on what it's like being the first openly gay player in the NFL— BuzzFeed Sports (@BuzzFeedSports) May 13, 2014
Despite his diminished draft status triggered by a Day 3 slide, it appears Sam is eager to prove himself on the gridiron, per the NFL's official Twitter account:
While Sam expressed pride at the unprecedented opportunity he has in relation to the rest of his family (h/t the Rams on Twitter), he also acknowledged the toll his publicity has taken regarding his relationship with his father, as reported by Fox Sports 1's America's Pregame:
“I have not had a 1 on 1 conversation with my father.” — @MichaelSamNFL.— America's Pregame (@AmericasPregame) May 13, 2014
St. Louis is stacked on its defensive front, which will make it difficult for Sam to make an immediate impact, much less qualify for the final 53-man roster. Chris Long and Pro Bowler Robert Quinn start at Sam's defensive end position, so he is looking at a situational role as a pass-rusher at best.
ESPN's First Take host Cari Champion chimed in with her analysis of the press conference:
Michael Sam is trolling the media. Not playing the game. I appreciate the simple answers. Sam saying and stating the obvious.— Cari Champion (@CariChampion) May 13, 2014
Michael Sam just wants to play ball! Be well!— Cari Champion (@CariChampion) May 13, 2014
Perhaps "trolling" is a bit strong of a term, but the fact remains that Sam will be focused on football and not his sexuality as much as possible.
Sam has a tall task ahead of him to remain a Ram, and based on his comments and determination to focus exclusively on improving as a player, it's clear he's fully aware of the road ahead.
Will Michael Sam make the Rams' final roster?
The questions and attention on Sam's historic achievement should eventually subside. Making an good impression in practice is now his most important challenge for his NFL career.
Sam's unique situation should be used as an opportunity to celebrate and embrace diversity, but it's clear Sam wants his achievements on the field not to be overshadowed. The reality is that he was a seventh-round draft choice after a very productive season at Missouri, and he has a lot to prove to all the teams that passed on him.
Thus, the focus moving forward should be more on his quest to prove he didn't deserve to be selected as late as he was. Becoming the first openly gay player in the NFL is a significant moment, and it's something that will never change. Now, what he does between this day and Week 1 will serve as the seismic, defining moments that set up his NFL future.