Football / Sports

Former Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam waves to the crowd during a time out in the the University of Missouri and South Dakota State University football game at Faurot Field on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014, in Columbia, Mo. Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL was cut Saturday by the St. Louis Rams. (Shane Keyser/Kansas City Star/MCT)

Michael Sam, NFL's first openly gay player, is cut by St. Louis Rams

LOS ANGELES--The St. Louis Rams have pushed the pause button on the football career of rookie linebacker Michael Sam.

Sam, the NFL's first openly gay player, was released Saturday in the final round of cuts, just missing a spot on the team's 53-man roster.

There's still a possibility Sam could wind up with the Rams. In order to place him on their practice squad, they would need to place him on the waiver wire for a day, thus making him available to the league's other 31 teams.

Sam tweeted that he knew the rigors and uncertainty of preseason were only a start.

"The most worthwhile things in life rarely come easy, this is a lesson I've always known," he wrote on Twitter. "The journey continues."

Rams Coach Jeff Fisher lauded Sam for his work ethic.

"He's not about drawing attention to himself," Fisher said during a news conference following the roster cuts. "He kept his head down and worked, and you can't ask anything more out of any player for that matter."

Much like the draft, Sam's football future hinged on a down-to-the-wire decision.

Only eight picks remained in the draft when Sam, the SEC defensive player of the year at Missouri, was chosen with a seventh-round compensatory pick. His main competition for a roster spot was undrafted rookie Ethan Westbrooks, former NCAA Division II defensive player of the year at West Texas A&M.

Westbrooks was one of nine defensive linemen the Rams kept.

Before the Rams' last exhibition game, against Miami on Thursday, Sam tweeted that the game was his final exam. In a game almost exclusively featuring reserves, Sam played defensive end and led the Rams with six tackles. He and Westbrooks got plenty of snaps while the first- and second-string players watched from the sideline.

Asked how he would grade himself, Sam told reporters: "I did good. I give myself a B-plus. I'm very proud of myself, like I said, of how I fought the run."

He expressed confidence that he had shown the Rams what they wanted to see.

"You know what, it's not going to be like the draft," he told reporters after the 14-13 defeat. "I'm very confident that I'm going to sleep really well tonight and I'm very confident that I'm going to be on a team, the Rams or any other team in the NFL."

In four exhibition games, Sam compiled 11 tackles and three sacks.

"I believe he can play in this league," Rams Coach Jeff Fisher said.

Even when he struggled, as he did in the opening game of the preseason, Sam found the experience exhilarating.

"Going out of that tunnel, it was some goosebumps," he told reporters after his debut, a 26-24 loss to New Orleans, after which he got mixed reviews from coaches. "It was amazing. The smoke, the flames -- it was amazing .... During the national anthem I was like, 'Wow, this is the big stage.'"

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