Michael Sam's Preseason Proved a Few Things—Most Importantly: He Can Play

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterAugust 30, 2014

USA Today

Inside the Rams' locker room, no one seemed to care that Michael Sam was gay.

Sam was treated the same as other rookies, according to two Rams players. No one mentioned it. No one cared. There were no uncomfortable jokes or moments from what these players saw. They weren't around Sam all the time but enough to feel confident that Sam was treated well. There was no fear of catching The Gay.

"No one cared about his sexuality except the media," one Rams player said.

That's not exactly true. The media is a convenient scapegoat. Sam being in the NFL is a monumental moment. We're not the only ones who care. We're only reflecting what is genuine interest from all quarters of the NFL and outside of the sport.

(One of the most fascinating parts of this story is how many people tweet how they don't care about the Michael Sam story…while taking the time to tweet how much they don't care about the Michael Sam story.)

The point is: Sam was in an NFL locker room and there was no cataclysm. The Constitution didn't self-combust. The Rams weren't pushed into a wormhole. A gay man played football in the NFL, played well, and the world still revolves around the sun.

David Richard/Associated Press

Rams defensive lineman Chris Long seemed to voice this exact opinion when he tweeted, in response to an ESPN story on Sam: "Dear ESPN, Everyone but you is over it."

Head coach Jeff Fisher mirrored that sentiment, saying there was "no distraction" with Sam. "He fit in very, very well," Fisher explained. He added that Sam was "fun to be around."

Then on Saturday came word from the Rams that Sam had been released. But it doesn't matter if Sam makes a 53-man roster or not. Practice squad or not. The Rams or not. Whether another team snaps him up or not.

None of that matters because the most important part of the Sam story now is this: What I know for certain is that Sam can play in this league.

Sam wasn't released because he's gay. So let's stop that talk now. The Rams drafted him; it doesn't make sense for them to draft him, and then let him go because of homophobia.

Sam was released because the Rams are loaded with pass-rushers. That's it. That's all. And make no mistake: Sam is good. No matter what happened with the Rams. He can play.

Sam is the prototypical hustle player. He's Rocky. He's a guy who every NFL fan should root for. Sam is limited in his physical abilities but makes up for that with stereotypical hustle and motor. I hate that word…motor. But nothing describes what Sam does better.

Scott Kane/Associated Press

Watching Sam all preseason it was clear he's a good player. This will sound strange, but Sam's game reminds me of a young Michael Strahan's.

I covered Strahan from his rookie season until he retired (1993-2007). When Strahan came into football he wasn't this overly talented, massively fast player. Strahan used his will and work ethic to make himself into the incredible player he became.

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

This isn't to say that Sam can be Strahan. Strahan was one of the best talents I've ever seen. But Sam will have an NFL career because his mental toughness is astronomically high. That was the case with Strahan.

Sam will get his shot. He can play. What's beginning to happen is that with a few exceptions Sam's story is beginning to shift from his historic existence to his football capabilities. Because Sam is the first, there will always be that aspect to his career. That won't change. He will be a part of sports history forever.

Yes, we're seeing that many of us were wrong about something: That the first openly gay player would face resistance in an NFL locker room. In fact, Sam was accepted by the Rams. Many people have, using Long's words, gotten over it.

It's also time to realize something else: Sam can play in this league.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.