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Missouri's Sam just wants to play football

Feb. 22, 2014
 
I don’t feel like a trailblazer- I feel like Micha...
I don’t feel like a trailblazer- I feel like Micha...: NFL's first openly gay player Michael Sam talks the media at the NFL combine.
Missouri defensive end Michael Sam speaks during a news conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014. Sam came out to the entire country Feb. 9, and could become the first openly gay player in the NFL. / AP

Michael Sam doesn’t have any endorsements at the moment. He’s not looking for any, either.

The Missouri defensive end just wants to play football, but also understands the questions he must answer to make that a reality.

As hundreds of media flocked to his news conference at Saturday’s NFL scouting combine, Sam acknowledged his situation. Unless something changes in the next three months, he’ll soon become the first openly gay player in the National Football League.

He’s made headlines since announcing his sexual orientation last month, but still longs for questions about how his game will translate to the NFL rather than discussing his personal life.

“Oh heck yeah, I wish you guys would just say, ‘Hey Michael Sam, how’s football going? How’s training going?’” Sam said. “I’d love for you guys to ask me that question. It is what it is. I just wish you guys would see me as Michael Sam the football player and not Michael Sam the gay football player.”

Videos from the 2014 NFL combine

At 6-foot-2, 256 pounds, many NFL pundits have weighed in on what position Sam will play in the NFL. Some believe he’s a situational pass rusher in a 4-3 defense. Others think he could stand up as a linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.

Whatever the case, he doesn’t fear being accepted in a professional locker room. He’d welcome being taken by Miami – not worry about entering the Dolphins’ locker room in the wake of the Jonathan Martin bullying fiasco.

In Missouri, many on campus knew about Sam’s sexuality and protected him until he felt comfortable bringing the public into his world. If someone has a problem with him, he’s willing to discuss it.

“If someone wants to call me a name, I’ll have a conversation with that guy and hopefully it won’t lead to nothing else,” Sam said.

So far, he’s received a lot of support. Wearing a “Stand with Sam” button he received at a recent Missouri-Tennessee basketball game, Sam laughed at the campaign-like slogan and said he hopes the rest of the room of reporters join him.

He’s been in locker rooms where slurs have been used, but he felt at home at Missouri. Many of his teammates were understanding and playfully jabbed with one another like any other college team would.

Sam knows it won’t always be like that, but brushes off the use of hate speech with a shrug.

“I’ve been in locker rooms where all kinds of slurs have been said,” Sam said. “I don’t think anyone means it … As time goes on everyone will adapt.”

When a football question finally is broached about how he views himself in the NFL, Sam believes he’s pass rusher who could assimilate into either a 4-3 or 3-4 defense. He fit in at Missouri. Why couldn’t he in the NFL?

Sam is projected as a mid-round pick. He’s not an NFL GM, he doesn’t know if coming out will affect his stock. If drafted by the Green Bay Packers, he’d likely have to play outside linebacker.

As general manager Ted Thompson said on Friday, his only concern is if he’s a good citizen and can play at a high level. The rest? “There’s a lot to do about nothing.”

Asked if he feels like he’s a trailblazer, Sam smiles.

“I feel like Michael Sam,” he said.

-whodkiew@pressgazettemedia.com and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.

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