Tahlequah Daily Press

Sports

February 22, 2014

Confident Sam wishes focus could stay on football

INDIANAPOLIS — Michael Sam needed no introduction.

He provided one anyway, subtly spelling out his desire to be known simply as a football player whose sexuality isn't a national story.

"Good afternoon. My name is Michael Sam. I play football for the University of Missouri," he said to commence his first public appearance since announcing he's gay.

Sam smiled and laughed often during a 12½-minute news conference at Lucas Oil Stadium, looking relaxed, jovial and confident while taking questions from the hundreds of reporters surrounding the podium.

Despite credentials that include the Southeastern Conference co-defensive player of the year award, Sam is projected only as a mid-round pick in the draft in May. He's 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds, falling somewhere between a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme and an outside linebacker in a 3-4 system.

Where he winds up, Sam said he doesn't care.

"I'm a pass rusher. If you put me in a situation to get the quarterback, I'm going to get the quarterback. Whoever coaches or GMs, this league is a passing league. I'd like to believe in myself as a good pass rusher," Sam said.

He's not worried about being accepted, either, in light of the bullying scandal that emerged in Miami.

"If the Miami Dolphins drafted me I would be excited to be a part of that organization," Sam said. "But 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."

Mostly, Sam wants to communicate this: "I just wish you guys would just see me as Michael Sam the football player instead of Michael Sam the gay football player."

His former Missouri teammates certainly did.

"He's happy with who he is. He doesn't shy away from who he is. Mike Sam has got a lot of personality. He's a great guy. He's not going to be any different than who he is every day," said wide receiver L'Damian Washington, one of several ex-Tigers stars here for the NFL's annual scouting combine.

If Sam were to slip down the draft board, determining a bias against his orientation or a fear of the potential distraction would be near impossible. If teams pass on him, they're likely unsure how his combination of size and speed fits with their defense.

"You only need one team. One team that believes in you. There's 32 teams. You need one team," Washington said.

Coaches and executives around the league were asked often this weekend for their thoughts on how Sam would fit, both on the field and in the locker room.

"He would be welcomed, no different than any other player we have," New York Jets coach Rex Ryan said, adding: "The big thing we always talk about is respect in our locker room."

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