Michael Sam understands the historical significance of being the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL team, and he is proud of breaking that barrier. But his main task now is making the Rams' roster.
"All my focus has been on playing and trying to make the team," the former Missouri defensive end told reporters at a news conference at the Rams' training facility Tuesday. "I understand that right now, you [reporters] want to make a big deal of it. But when this is over, I can start as fast as possible."
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Sam, who was selected in the seventh round, appeared at a news conference along with the Rams' sixth- and seventh-round picks, and later addressed reporters individually while sitting alongside coach Jeff Fisher, general manager Les Snead and executive vice president Kevin Demoff.
"All of us knew it would be a pivot in history," Snead said. "There's going to be a timeline here. Michael's the first."
Fisher said the Rams did not have a specific need at defensive end heading into the draft. But once the draft unfolded and Sam had not been picked, Fisher said his football grade justified the pick. "Shortly before we got to our pick, Michael's value as a football player was off the charts," Fisher said. "So we drafted Michael as a football player and he has an opportunity now to compete to make our football team."
Sam's arrival in St. Louis has been met with mostly positive reviews. President Barack Obama congratulated "Sam, the Rams and the NFL for taking an important step forward today in our nation's journey," according to a White House spokesman after the draft. "From the playing field to the corporate boardroom, LGBT Americans prove every day that you should be judged by what you do and not who you are."
Teammates also expressed support. "Since the time he was picked a few days ago until now, the coverage hasn't stopped," quarterback Sam Bradford said at a charity golf tournament Tuesday. "I was in there [Tuesday] morning and nothing had changed in our locker room. Like coach said, we drafted a really good football player and what he does outside the facility or off the field, that's not any of our worries."
Sam said he never experienced taunts about his sexual orientation during a game -- very few people outside of his coaches and teammates at Missouri knew he is gay. But if it happens in the NFL, Sam said he knows how he'll respond.
"I'm determined to be great," he said. "I'm determined to make this team and I have every confidence in myself that I make this team. If somebody wants to say something, you will see No. 96 make big plays on this team."
Sam said he has been contacted by other professional athletes since being drafted, although he declined to name anyone other than former Giants defensive end Michael Strahan. Sam said Strahan texted him to say that Rams defensive line coach Mike Waufle, who formerly worked with Strahan, was a terrific coach.
Sam does not plan to do many more interviews for the remainder of the offseason, but he did have a message to others who may be experiencing difficulty in their personal lives.
"It's OK to be who you are, whether you're gay, straight, black or white," he said. "It's OK to be comfortable in your own skin."