New York (CBS St. Louis/AP) — Michael Sam has become the first openly gay player drafted into the National Football League.
With the 249th overall pick in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft, the St. Louis Rams made history and selected Sam.
Sam was a consensus All-American and the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year as a senior at Missouri.
Sam came out as gay in media interviews earlier this year. His team and coaches knew his secret and kept it for his final college season.
“I looked in their eyes, and they just started shaking their heads — like, finally, he came out,” Sam told The New York Times earlier this year — the first time he had spoken publicly about his sexual orientation.
Tension mounted throughout the day whether or not Sam would get drafted. Sam was the 249th out of 256 picks in the draft.
Sam was in San Diego watching with friends and family at the home of his agent, Joe Barkett of Empire Athletes. ESPN and the NFL Network had cameras there and showed Sam’s reaction.
Sam was on the phone bending over, with his boyfriend hugging him and rubbing his left bicep. When Sam got off the phone, the tears started. He gave his boyfriend a big kiss and a long hug as he cried and his eyes reddened. After, they shared cake — and another kiss.
Sam took to Twitter to thank the Rams for drafting him.
“Thank you to the St. Louis Rams and the whole city of St. Louis. I’m using every (ounce) of this to achieve greatness!!” Sam tweeted.
When Mike Kensil, the NFL’s vice president of game operations, walked to the podium at Radio City Music Hall in the draft’s final minutes to announce the Rams’ second-to-last pick, the crowd got a sense something was up. Very few of the last day picks were announced at the podium.
There was also some buzz on Twitter that the Rams were about to make news.
When Kensil said: “The St. Louis Rams select … Michael Sam…” the fans gave a hearty cheer, chanting “Yes! Yes! Yes!” and “Michael Sam!”
Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said that they had Sam rated higher on their draft board but decided to pick him after he fell into the seventh round.
“We weren’t going to miss out on this opportunity to add an outstanding football player to our program,” Fisher told ESPN.
Fisher also described the historic phone call he made to Sam.
“I just said, ‘Michael, hi, this is Jeff Fisher. You are now a Ram. The wait is now finally over. Congratulations. We think you can help us win,'” Fisher told ESPN, adding it is a privilege to be a part of this historic occasion.
Members of the Rams organization took to Twitter to welcome Sam to the team.
He was thought to have been a middle-to-late round draft pick after the season but his stock dropped after a poor combine workout. The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Texan is considered a tweener — too small to play defensive line in the pros and not fast enough to be an every down outside linebacker.
“He’ll get you coverage sacks,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “He’ll play in the first quarter just like he does in the fourth quarter. 100 percent.”
Some team personnel officials told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel before the draft that they didn’t see Sam’s game transitioning to the NFL.
“Most of his production was hustle stuff,” an NFC personnel official told the Journal Sentinel. “There’s production, but he’s short, he’s not a really good athlete and he doesn’t play good against the run.”
He continued: “He’s kind of a one-task pass rusher. Just run up the field. And they swallow him up and kind of push him around.”
One NFC personnel director stated that Sam doesn’t have a position in the league.
“He’s not a linebacker, and he’s really not a defensive end,” the personnel director told the Journal Sentinel. “I’d certainly take him to camp. You’ve got to admire how hard he plays.”
An AFC executive said Sam was “short and slow.” Sam stands at 6 feet 2 inches and weighs 262 pounds.
Sam has said he wants to be evaluated solely on his athletic ability and NFL executives and coaches, all the way up to Commissioner Roger Goodell, have said publicly that will be the case.
Goodell told ESPN that he wants to see Sam succeed in the league.
“I want to see Michael Sam get an opportunity to play in the NFL,” Goodell told ESPN Thursday before the first round of the NFL Draft. “We like to say the NFL is the ultimate meritocracy. If you can play football, they want to see you play. The teams want you. The fans want you. And that’s ultimately what it’s all about.”
Goodell continued: “I have great respect for Michael, his courage, his decision to become public, and I’m optimistic that he’s going to get that opportunity, and hopefully he can play at this level.”
Former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe said before the draft if Sam isn’t drafted it will be fair to ask whether his sexual orientation was the reason why.
“Projectable guys who have to change positions are generally drafted in rounds three through five,” Kluwe said. “A bad combine shouldn’t send him out of the draft. If that’s the precedent and that precedent is not met, then why not?”
During the later rounds of the draft, Kluwe posted on Twitter that teams are terrified of an openly gay football player.
“Michael Sam still not drafted? Clearly teams are worried about the fact a gay player terrifies them… I mean his intangibles,” Kluwe tweeted.
Sam is one of a few male athletes who have made headlines by coming out over the last year. NBA veteran Jason Collins was the first. The 35-year-old center came out after the 2012-13 season, but didn’t sign until more than halfway through this season when he latched on with the Brooklyn Nets.
Collins called it a “great day.”
“I think it’s a great day for the NFL and Michael and his family,” Collins told ESPN.
Last month, University of Massachusetts basketball player Derrick Gordon also came out as gay. He has at least one more season left at UMass.
Sam has kept a relatively low-profile leading up to the draft, doing almost no media interviews. He planned to watch Saturday’s selections — there are 156 picks set to be made by the 32 teams — with friends, family and his agent, Joe Barkett of Empire Athletes, in San Diego.
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