ST. LOUIS (AP) – Michael Sam sure seems ready for all the attention.
The first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team was confident and engaged Tuesday as he was formally introduced by the St. Louis Rams, handling questions and scrutiny with aplomb well beyond that of a typical seventh-round fringe prospect.
“I’m determined to be great,” Sam said.
Sam put his arm around coach Jeff Fisher after sharing the podium with other late-round picks, joked that he’d never before heard the term “tweener” and even rose in his chair in mock intimidation of fellow Missouri draftee E.J. Gaines, who’d been asked what the SEC co-defensive player of the year was like as a teammate.
Sam disagreed that his sexuality had been a secret at Missouri (he had come out to his teammates before last season). And he considers himself proof that it need not be a factor.
“It’s OK to be who you are,” Sam said. “It’s OK to be comfortable in your own skin.”
The appearance of perhaps the most famous seventh-round pick in NFL history attracted a massive throng. A half-dozen TV trucks lined a crammed parking lot at Rams Park, an hour before the team’s two first-round picks were due at the podium.
“There’s some energy here,” general manager Les Snead said with a smile between rounds of interviews. “But I don’t think this is a circus. This deserves attention but we’ll get it over and we’ll get to work.”
Sam shared the dais with five other players taken in the sixth and seventh round Saturday as the draft came to a close. For his subsequent solo session, he was flanked by Fisher and Snead, with Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff joining the group.
Everyone seemed eager to embrace Sam.
“He’s a courageous young man,” said cornerback Lamarcus Jordan, a second-round pick. “He’s a brave young man that we need in this organization.”
The team’s two first-round picks were first to the podium and welcomed Sam to the family.
“You want playmakers,” defensive tackle Aaron Donald said “And he’s a playmaker.”
Sam puts on the pads later in the week when the team holds a rookie minicamp, normally a low-key event also sure to attract outsized attention.
The Rams grabbed Sam even though they didn’t need help at defensive end, where they have a pair of first-round picks as starters. Robert Quinn was second in the NFL with 19 sacks last season and Chris Long has been a standout since getting chosen second overall in 2008. But the Rams were well-stocked with picks, finishing with 11 selections, putting them in unique position to make history.
Sam knows also that it’s up to him.
“Shortly before we got to our pick, Michael’s value as a football player was off the charts,” Fisher said. “He has an opportunity now to come in and compete to try to make our team.”