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Proving athleticism beyond orientation

Michael Sam, the first openly gay football player, is cut from the Rams. (AP Photo)
Michael Sam, the first openly gay football player, is cut from the Rams. (AP Photo)

Despite being one of the final cuts this weekend by the Rams, Michael Sam proved to many people this preseason that he belongs in the National Football League.

Following his senior season at Missouri, where he was the co-defensive player of the year in the SEC, Sam came out as a gay man. His draft stock was a topic of conversation around the league and the media this past spring. NFL front office personnel were worried that his combination of size and athleticism wouldn’t translate to the NFL game, but many were more worried that his sexual orientation would be a distraction throughout the rest of the offseason for their teams. As a result, Sam fell to the seventh round where the Rams took him with the 249th pick, and he became the first openly gay player to be drafted in the NFL. 

After being drafted, many around the Rams organization and the entire league voiced their opinions about everything surrounding Sam. Many believed that he would be too much of a distraction and cited the kissing clip with his boyfriend constantly being shown on various news outlets. I think Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, however, did a great service for Michael Sam by telling the media following the introductory press conference that all press conferences from then on would focus on football-related questions. There were rumors that Sam had reached an agreement with the Oprah Winfrey Network to have a documentary series about his attempt at making an NFL team. Following backlash from the rumors, however, the series was put on hold. Then, Michael Sam came out, and he reiterated the fact that his main focus was football and doing what he could to make the team.

That’s when Michael Sam showed what he was made of. In the preseason, he was rotating in with the starters and getting a lot of work with the backup units. In both situations, he was successful. He didn’t look lost against the starters and was able to make plays while playing against the backups. In four games, he had 11 tackles and three sacks, including two sacks of fellow rookie lightning rod Johnny Manziel. Sam’s stats were very impressive, but he also showed in areas that don’t show up on the stat sheet. He demonstrated a high motor which compensated for his physical attributes, about which many NFL analysts were worried. Rams’ coaches said he also looked good on special teams, which is important for non-starters. Along with playing well on the field, Sam was able to gain the respect and support of his teammates and coaches, as exemplified by fellow defensive end Chris Long who tweeted that he was annoyed with how ESPN was covering Sam, implying that they just viewed him as a football player. Fisher also announced after their final preseason game that Sam can definitely play in the league.

Michael Sam brings a lot of things to the table for a football team as a 4-3 defensive end — especially as a situational pass rusher. That team, however, just wasn’t meant to be the St. Louis Rams. The Rams have a lot of holes on their roster, but pass rushing defensive end is not one of them. They have one of the best defensive end duos in the league in Long and Robert Quinn and have plenty of depth on the defensive line. Many teams in the league can use more pass rushing, so Michael Sam should have no problem finding a place on a roster after his performance this preseason. I think he proved to the NFL community that he’s not just the gay football player.

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