The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Michael Sam undaunted by media circus at NFL combine

(Brian Spurlock/USA Today Sports)

INDIANAPOLIS – Missouri defensive end Michael Sam handled his trial-by-media portion of the NFL Scouting Combine with ease on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Sam publicly announced two weeks ago that he is gay, putting him on the cusp of becoming the first openly gay player in the NFL. As a result, despite his projections as a mid-round draft pick, he has become one of the most – if not the most – heavily scrutinized player at the combine.

Taking the podium Saturday in front of a swarm of about 300 reporters and 50 cameras, the 6-foot-2, 261-pound Southeastern Conference defensive co-player of the year answered questions with confidence, clarity and even sprinkled in some humor.

During the 12-minute news confernece, Sam played down the significance of his revelation, and said that he didn’t see him as anything special.

“A trailblazer? I feel like I’m Michael Sam,” he said.

Later, when asked if he wished he didn’t have to answer questions not related to football, he said: “Oh, heck yeah. I wish you guys would say, ‘Hey, Michael Sam. How’s football going?’ I’d love for you to ask me that question. But it is what it is and I just wish you guys would see me as Michael Sam the football player, not Michael Sam the gay football player.”

He had already endured extensive mental and psychological evaluations and some interviews with teams, standard for prospects at the annual pre-draft event, after arriving in Indianapolis on Thursday night. More interviews were scheduled to follow Saturday, and those would precede his physical evaluations – bench press on Sunday and on-field drills on Monday.

Sam said that thus far, no teams had asked him about his sexuality. Aside from a brief, lighthearted conversation with a teammate from the Senior Bowl game and Saturday’s media session, the topic hadn’t come up, he said. That’s how he preferred it, because his thoughts centered on what he needs to do to convince prospective employers to draft him.

“Since I’m not on an NFL active roster right now, that is my only thought, to be on that roster. I’m not focused on anything else but to be on an NFL team,” Sam said.

After Sam had endured a heavy dose of questions regarding his decision to publicize his sexual orientation, and the reaction he had received from teammates, classmates, the public and media members, one reporter said: “Hey, Michael. A football question.”

Sam’s eyes lit up.

“Hey! What’s that?” he said and then laughed. The question involved his billing as “a tweener” because he doesn’t have the size of a typical NFL defensive end playing a 4-3 alignment, or experience as a 3-4 outside linebacker.

Sam responded: “I’m a pass-rusher. So, If you put me in a situation to get to the quarterback, I’m going to get the quarterback. So, whatever coaches or GMs, if they need that, this is a passing league and I see myself as a good pass-rusher.”

Sam understands that he could be subjected to additional scrutiny or even abuse in a locker room. But he said: “I know I have a handle of myself. I know how to communicate with teammates and communicate with coaches and whoever I need to communicate with.”