Michael Sam a distraction? Jeff Fisher says ‘absolutely not’


Michael Sam (left) battles Greg Robinson during practice on the first day of training camp. (Huy Mach / AP Photo / St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

One NFL coach emphatically disagrees with Tony Dungy about whether having Michael Sam on the roster would be a distraction. And that’s the coach who drafted him.

“You know, absolutely not,” St. Louis Rams Coach Jeff Fisher said on ESPN’s “Mike and Mike” show. “Let’s define distractions. There were a couple of extra cameras during the early OTAs. There may have been an extra camera yesterday as the rookies reported and went on the field for the first time, but, no, it’s not.

“Mike’s a very passionate athlete. He’s very focused on trying to make this football team and obviously he comes back with the rest of this rookie class yesterday and and they go through a conditioning class and they all killed it. It was great to see. He worked really hard during the summer. He’s doing a good job. He’s like the rest of them. One of the unfortunate things about this business is releasing players and upgrading your roster and we let three players go yesterday, who really have only been here for probably a month. They’re better football players than they were when we signed them, and that’s where Mike is right now. He’s a better football player because he’s committed himself to making this football team.”

Dungy, the former Tampa Bay and Indianapolis coach who now is an NBC commentator, set off a debate when he told the Tampa Tribune that he wouldn’t have drafted Sam “[n]ot because I don’t believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn’t want to deal with all of it. … It’s not going to be totally smooth … things will happen.” Dungy later clarified his comments, saying that Sam — a seventh-rounder who was the first openly gay player taken in the NFL draft — “deserves an opportunity to play in the NFL” and would have no problem if Sam were on his team.

Sam responded Tuesday afternoon:

Dungy’s comments weren’t a distraction for Fisher.

“I didn’t pay real close attention to it. I’m going to assume that maybe some things were taken out of context, but everybody’s entitled to their own opinion,” Fisher said. “Coaches are going to have differences of opinion during the draft. We’ll look at another team perhaps and say ‘Well I wouldn’t have taken this guy, I would’ve taken this guy’ for whatever the reasons are so I’m not concerned. Tony’s entitled to his opinion, as everybody is, and so are we and right now we think we have a pretty good thing going. With respect to Mike, we wanted to give Michael every opportunity to try and make this football team.”

Shortly after he was drafted, an Oprah Winfrey Network show on Sam was planned, but that was shelved with Sam no lock to make the final roster. He is, Fisher said, “one of 30 or so rookies trying to make this football team.”

The Rams won’t be taking steps to limit Sam’s exposure to the media.

“[W]e’re not treating him any differently than anyone else on this team,” Fisher said. “They’re all going to be available. He’s going to be available. He handles himself well. I think his response to Tony’s stuff yesterday was heartfelt and honest. Michael Sam is one of 14 defensive linemen we have on the roster. It’s going to be very competitive at his position as everybody knows. People realized during the draft that one of the strengths of our team is defensive line, especially the defensive end position. Why would we do that? Well, he was the best athlete on the board and we wanted to give him an opportunity.”

After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.
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