by Liam Duncan
At this year’s NFL draft, defensive end Michael Sam made history by becoming the first openly gay football player to ever enter the NFL when the St. Louis Rams selected him as the 249th pick of the draft.
Despite the fact that his first season in the pros has yet to begin, it seems that Sam has also managed to solidify himself as one of the most famous players to be selected in 7th round of a draft in NFL history. Videos that capture the emotional reaction he had upon learning he had been drafted into the NFL have been circulating the social media world nonstop, and his story is still being followed relentlessly by all major sports and news networks. TV icon Oprah Winfrey has even purchased the rights to make a reality-TV documentary about Sam’s journey from the draft to the NFL regular season. However, at the request of the St. Louis Rams, she has agreed to postpone the making of the film so that Sam can first focus on his football career.
Ever since the ESPN program Outside the Lines covered Sam’s public announcement of his sexual orientation following his final season at the University of Missouri, the professional football community has been polarized about the prospect of a gay man becoming an NFL player. Some players stated that it would be extremely uncomfortable knowing that a teammate was gay. Many others stated that this would not be a problem for them, though they seemed rightfully concerned that having a gay player in the NFL would result in distracting media frenzy. For his part, Sam stated that all of his teammates at Missouri knew of his sexual orientation during the full length of his tenure with the team, and this fact never impeded them from performing successfully on the field.
While most of the reactions to Sam’s selection in the draft have been quite positive, with messages of congratulations pouring in from other sports stars, celebrities and even President Obama, there have been numerous detractors as well. For example, current Miami Dolphins defensive back Don Jones referred to the Rams’ decision to draft a gay player as “horrible” on Twitter. Also, numerous critics suggest that if Sam were straight, he wouldn’t have been selected in the draft at all.
Indeed, despite being named an All-American and Co-SEC player of the year during his last season at Missouri, where he was also the leader of a very successful defense, many NFL scouts dismissed Sam as being undersized and too slow to play at the professional level, which undoubtedly led to his very late selection. Additionally, players around the league have expressed their frustration at the fact that Sam’s public image has seemingly guaranteed him a spot on the Rams’ 52-player regular season roster, an achievement that most 7th round selections will have to spend years playing on practice squads to earn.
In spite of all these accusations against Sam and against his team, the Rams’ general manager Les Snead stated, “We are aware of the magnitude of the decision but at the end of the day that was a football decision [to draft Sam].” Likewise, Sam has vowed not to focus on the media circus that has been surrounding him since his selection, and he promises that all of his energy will be focused on becoming a player that can make an impact on the NFL not only in press conferences and media reports but also on the football field.