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Picking Sam, Rams welcome 1st openly gay player

By Ralph D. Russo

AP College Football Writer

LAST UPDATED: 11:02 a.m. HST, May 11, 2014

NEW YORK >> Michael Sam waited and waited. Hours passed, rounds came and went, and eventually, there were only eight more picks left on the third and final day of the NFL draft.

For just a moment, it looked as if his chance of being picked by a pro team and becoming the league's first openly gay player might take a detour. Or at least be delayed.

The call finally came in Saturday from the St. Louis Rams, the team right down the road from where Sam played his college ball at the University of Missouri.

Sam was selected in the seventh and final round and admitted it was a frustrating wait. He said teams that passed on him chickened out and he should have been drafted sooner.

"From last season alone, I should've been in the first three rounds. SEC Defensive Player of the Year, All-American," Sam said. He stopped short of directly saying his stock dropped in the draft because he came out.

"You know what, who knows? Who knows? Only the people who sit in the war room know," he said. "They saw Michael Sam, day after day they scratched it off the board. That was their loss. But St. Louis kept me on that board. And you know what I feel like I'm a (Jadeveon) Clowney, a first draft pick. I'm proud of where I am now."

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. He went on to have the best year of his career: He was the co-defensive player of the year in the nation's best college football conference and had 11.5 sacks.

The pick came after several rounds of suspense. The first round of the day, No. 4 overall, came and went, no Sam. Then the fifth and sixth, and finally, the day was down to just a handful of picks.

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. Twitter lit up with suggestions 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!"

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.

"Thank you to the St. Louis Rams and the whole city of St. Louis. I'm using every once of this to achieve greatness!!" Sam tweeted with a frenzied typo moments after he was picked, with a picture of himself wearing a Rams cap and a pink polo shirt.

The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Sam was considered a mid-to-late round pick, far from a sure thing to be drafted. He played defensive end in college, but he's short for that position in the NFL and slower than most outside linebackers, the position he'll need to transition to at the professional level.

He was taken with the 249th overall pick out of 256. Players from Marist, Maine and McGill University in Canada were selected before Sam.

"In the world of diversity we live in now, I'm honored to be a part of this," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said during an interview on ESPN.

The NFL had no comment on Sam being drafted.

The impact of Sam's selection goes far beyond football. At a time when gay marriage is gaining acceptance among Americans, Sam's entry into the NFL is a huge step toward the integration of gay men into professional team sports. Pro sports have in many ways lagged behind the rest of society in acceptance.

"Michael Sam wouldn't have been drafted five years ago," said former Viking punter Chris Kluwe, who has accused Minnesota of cutting him in part because of his vocal support for gay rights.

In the last year, NBA veteran Jason Collins has come out publicly as gay, and is now playing for the Brooklyn Nets. Collins said before the Nets' playoff game against the Heat that he was watching the draft and texted Sam after he was picked.

"It's a great day for Michael and his family and for the NFL," Collins said.

Publicly, most people in and related to the NFL have been supportive of Sam. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said Sam would be welcome in the league and judged solely on his ability to play. A few wondered whether teams would be reluctant to draft Sam because of all the media attention that would come with it.

Fair or not, the NFL -- coming off a season in which a bullying scandal involving players on the Miami Dolphins was one of the biggest stories in sports -- was looking at a possible public relations hit if Sam was not drafted. He would likely have been signed as a free agent and given a chance to make a team in training camp, but to many it would have looked as if he was being rejected.

Now that he's there, it could be seen as an opportunity for the NFL to show that crass locker room culture is not as prevalent as it might have looked to those who followed the embarrassing Dolphins scandal. But all the reaction to Sam's news wasn't positive from the league.

Miami safety Don Jones posted a one-word tweet, "Horrible" shortly after Sam was drafted. It was later taken down. The team's general manager said he was aware, and was disappointed.

Wade Davis, a gay former NFL player who is now the executive director of the gay rights advocacy group "You Can Play," said that Sam only needs to do his job to have an impact beyond the field.

"Michael Sam doesn't have to be a vocal advocate (for gay rights)," Davis said. "His visibility is his advocacy."

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serious wrote:
In all due respect--why is this NEWS?? He hasn't gotten his phone call from Obama yet???
on May 10,2014 | 01:08PM
inverse wrote:
Call from Obama or Lennay Kekua?
on May 10,2014 | 02:08PM
melane3 wrote:
The reason that his selection is news is patently obvious, just as obvious as your feigned question.
on May 10,2014 | 03:17PM
lwandcah wrote:
Yes, because Mr. Sam chose to make it into a story.
on May 11,2014 | 06:36AM
Anonymous wrote:
The media chose to report Sam's story. It was in all the newspapers and on all the television networks. Interest in the story was very high, and much of the nation is proud of Sam. The condescension toward Sam also is a story. One that continues to this day, in this comment section of the Star Advertiser.
on May 11,2014 | 07:13AM
DowntownGreen wrote:
Yet you read it and took the time to comment. THAT'S why it's news. If it truly didn't matter, you and the rest of the "outraged" folks wouldn't bother.
on May 11,2014 | 08:54AM
BigErn wrote:
I'm serious when I ask these questions: what's the locker room and shower situation? And how is this different from a hetero male showering in the female's locker room say at school, Honolulu Club, etc?
on May 10,2014 | 02:08PM
lynnh wrote:
I don't care if someone is gay, just stop shoving it down everyone's throat every five minutes.
on May 10,2014 | 02:11PM
den wrote:
on May 10,2014 | 05:59PM
Bdpapa wrote:
Thank You!
on May 11,2014 | 08:26AM
false wrote:
why not show a player and his wife smashing cake down each others throat and kissing? Oh yeah, they would not want to shove it everyone's face because it would be a private moment...
on May 10,2014 | 02:38PM
den wrote:
yeah, it was a "they didn't have to show that" moment.
on May 10,2014 | 03:44PM
false wrote:
The circus begins...
on May 10,2014 | 02:39PM
blackmurano wrote:
It seems this cultural accept this homosexual as a hero coming out of the closet. But when you have a Christian player like Tim Tebow, most will say could you shut your mouth.
on May 10,2014 | 03:53PM
lwandcah wrote:
Hallelujah brother. You hit the button on the nose.
on May 11,2014 | 06:38AM
DowntownGreen wrote:
Seriously? Tim Tebow was EVERYWHERE in the media with his outward displays of his religion. Everywhere. Whose "plan" was it that he was a complete washout in the NFL?
on May 11,2014 | 08:15AM
hawaiikone wrote:
As you're well aware, the comment was speaking to the increasingly intolerant attitude we're seeing from so many regarding any public figure's outward display of their Christian faith as opposed to the congratulatory recognition of any homosexual doing the same thing. Whatever endeavour either is attempting is of secondary importance. Overall, Mr. Tebow received far more negative press than this gay player, and little of it had to do with his skills on the field.
on May 11,2014 | 05:03PM
First-Responder wrote:
Sam is no hero. Our soldiers are hero's.
on May 11,2014 | 08:55AM
noheawilli wrote:
Who? And why don't we get an update on everybody drafted? I could careless who he dates, can he play football?
on May 10,2014 | 03:56PM
lwandcah wrote:
Remains to be seen.
on May 11,2014 | 06:39AM
false wrote:
kinda like when we got the first black prez... race relations were supposed to be peachy
on May 10,2014 | 06:34PM
false wrote:
guess my first comment was sent for approval over at v. putin advertiser...
on May 10,2014 | 06:35PM
Bdpapa wrote:
And, whats the big deal?
on May 10,2014 | 08:18PM
Kuokoa wrote:
Yeah, I sure, if a team did not pick him there would be a huge discrimination law suit.
on May 11,2014 | 07:50AM
DowntownGreen wrote:
Congratulations Mr. Sam. Now go out there and shut the homophobes up with your play on the field.
on May 11,2014 | 08:16AM
First-Responder wrote:
The President calls this dude because he's a gay player? How about calling Putin to slow the escalation of the next war or House Republicans to resolve their differences? Obama has his priorities all wrong. This guy is a speed bump in history - completely insignificant.
on May 11,2014 | 08:53AM
DowntownGreen wrote:
Michael Sam didn't get a phone call according to all reports, but maybe you saw something the rest of us didn't? And if you have access to the President's phone records please enlighten us. Oh wait... you don't, do you? So how is it exactly that you know the President HASN'T been in regular contact with Putin or the Republicans? From Rush? From Hannity? You might also want to consider that most people can actually do more than one thing at a time.
on May 11,2014 | 09:08AM
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