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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Michael Sam never will be viewed as just another player

Former Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam speaks to

Former Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam speaks to the media during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on Feb. 22, 2014 in Indianapolis. Credit: Getty Images / Joe Robbins

INDIANAPOLIS - As he stood at a podium before a horde of reporters gathered at the annual NFL Scouting Combine, Michael Sam made a simple request -- even if it might be impossible to fulfill.

"I wish you guys would just say, 'Michael Sam, how's football going? How's training going?' And I just wish you guys would just see me as Michael Sam the football player instead of Michael Sam the gay football player."

Maybe one day Sam will be seen as he wants to be seen. More than likely, it will never come, in the same way that Jackie Robinson will never be regarded as just a baseball player.

Not after Sam's revelation two weeks ago about his sexual orientation, a daring moment in which he did what no male athlete had done: acknowledge he is gay before entering the world of major professional team sports.

A handful of male athletes have come out after their careers were over, but only once before had someone dared to do so during his playing days.

How fitting, then, that Sam stood before an overflow crowd of reporters on the same weekend that Jason Collins, a free agent who last year became the first active player to come out, prepared for his possible re-entry to the NBA. The Nets are giving serious consideration to signing Collins.

The time is right -- finally -- for the acceptance of openly gay players in the country's most popular professional sports. But the day likely will never come when Sam is viewed as simply another player. Just as Robinson always will be remembered as Major League Baseball's first black player, Sam always will be linked to sports for his willingness to blaze a trail for others.

Even if he doesn't look at himself that way. Asked if he feels like a trailblazer, Sam replied, "A trailblazer? I feel like I'm Michael Sam."

Yes, you can argue that Sam could have remained "just a football player" by not acknowledging his sexual orientation. But he was open with it in college, he knew that the word was out on the NFL grapevine, and he wanted to control the timing of his decision, not have someone else do it. Good for him.

The NFL never has been more ready to accept an active player who is gay, although one would be naive to think there won't be any repercussions.

Regardless of the team Sam joins, some teammates will be uncomfortable. Surely there are homophobic players in the league; consider that the report conducted by New York attorney Ted Wells into the Dolphins' bullying scandal revealed homophobic comments in the locker room.

Sam himself has heard remarks that can be uncomfortable, but it is a measure of his maturity and his self-assurance that he says he'll be able to handle whatever lies ahead. Even if it means playing for the Dolphins.

"If the Miami Dolphins drafted me, I would be excited to be a part of that organization," he said. "I'm not afraid of going into that environment. I know how to handle myself. I know how to communicate with my teammates. I know how to communicate with the coaches and other staff I need to communicate with."

There may be no player more ready to handle what comes next than Sam. Not only did he acknowledge he is gay to his Missouri teammates and coaches before the 2013 season, but he went through far more challenging situations while growing up in Hitchcock, Texas. Two of his seven siblings were shot dead, another drowned before Sam was born, and his parents divorced twice.

"Michael knows exactly who he is and what he wants," said former NFL wide receiver Wade Davis, who acknowledged he is gay in 2012, nearly a decade after his football career ended. "He's a pretty strong-willed guy. He's already debunked a lot of myths, because he played at a place [Missouri] that's perceived as homophobic.''

Sam's revelation while at Missouri has met with overwhelming support. Soon after he acknowledged his sexual orientation, some fans went into a snow-covered Faurot Field and used their feet to write out "S-A-M" in the snow, with the Missouri "M" logo at the end of his name. There are buttons with "Stand With Sam" written on them. Michael Sam wore one Saturday.

"The positive outweighs the negative," he said. "I'm kind of surprised, actually. But there's a lot of supporters, a lot of people want this."

It is yet another indication that now is the time for something like this. Not everyone might agree with it, but over time, Sam and other gay athletes will be accepted.

Sam likely never will be just a football player, but that's OK. He's not just another player. He's a piece of history. He's a part of progress.

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