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Football / Sports

Michael Sam under the spotlight

INDIANAPOLIS -- Michael Sam walked into the room unannounced and as soon as the media members realized his arrival they flooded toward him. It was like someone put out a free cake.

In his first public interview with a large media gathering since he announced he was gay earlier this month, Sam handled himself with grace and poise. He laughed. He never became agitated. He was thoughtful.

"Good afternoon," he said in his opening comments. "My name is Michael Sam. I play football for the University of Missouri. As you may know, Missouri is the Show Me state and you'd think I'd have shown you guys enough these last couple of weeks. But I'm learning with the media you guys still want more so ask your questions and I'll answer them to the best I can."

Sam's identity in the public eye now is that of the first openly gay player prepared to play in the NFL. In some ways, Sam's announcement has stripped him of his normalcy as a football player. He is now something much bigger than a player just trying to get drafted and make a team. At one point he even said, "A trailblazer? I feel like I'm Michael Sam."

"I just wish you guys would just see me as Michael Sam the football player instead of Michael Sam the gay football player," he said.

One of the biggest questions facing Sam is how he will be accepted in NFL locker rooms. Sam didn't think that would be a concern. He also said NFL teams didn't ask him about his sexual orientation during meetings, only about football.

"I've been in locker rooms where all kinds of slurs have been said, and I don't think anyone means it," he said. "I think (people are) a little naive and uneducated but as time goes on everyone will adapt."

But NFL coaches and executives at the NFL Scouting Combine raised the idea that the biggest issue will be the red-hot media spotlight that could be placed on Sam.

"I can't speak for every single locker room," San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh said, "but I truly believe, as many players have already commented on it, it will be welcoming. I truly believe that.

"I put myself in other people's shoes sometimes and say, 'I'm the father and that's my son, Michael Sam.' I would worry more about the media and whether they will allow him to go through the process or if they're going to try to make him the daily story and over-scrutinize and not give him any room to go through the process."

Sam is a defensive end who also might fit as a linebacker in a 3-4 defensive scheme. He was the Southeastern Conference's defensive player of the year. Some mock drafts have him going in the second round; others have him in the late rounds. And Sports Illustrated's Peter King tweeted that one anonymous general manager told him he didn't think Sam would get drafted at all.

"I'm a pass-rusher," Sam said. "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."

He made it clear that's how he wants to be known.

(c)2014 The Seattle Times

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