The Herald Bulletin

February 22, 2014

Sam attempting to focus on football

By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin

---- — INDIANAPOLIS — Michael Sam somehow managed to avoid the media storm his coming out announcement created for the past few weeks.

On Saturday afternoon, however, the Missouri defensive end stared right into the heart of it.

Sam could become the first openly gay player in the NFL during May's draft, and that possibility drew the largest media crowd of the week to his podium at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Southeastern Conference's co-defensive player of the year spoke for about 13 minutes and made it clear he doesn't see his sexual orientation as an obstacle to his career.

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

The real questions now are about how well Sam's game will adapt at the professional level.

He compiled 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss in the nation's most competitive college football conference last year. But at 6-foot-2 and 261 pounds, he's seen as something of a "tweener" in the pros — a player who might not be big enough to play defensive end or athletic enough to play outside linebacker.

Ultimately, that's the notion he must disprove at the NFL Scouting Combine.

"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. This league is a passing league, I'd like to believe in myself as a good pass rusher."

Indianapolis Colts star Robert Mathis faced similar questions about his size coming out of college. He compensated with an outstanding burst off the snap, using his speed to disrupt offensive gameplans.

Mathis, in fact, could provide a professional role model for Sam. He made the transition from 4-3 defensive end under Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell to 3-4 linebacker under Chuck Pagano and had the best season of his 11-year career with 19.5 sacks in 2013.

Pagano was asked during his media availability Friday whether Sam would be a good fit in the Colts' locker room.

"I love the environment we've created, the culture we've created," Pagano said. "I think we have an outstanding locker room. The Colts never have and never will discriminate based on sexual orientation. We look at the player. We'll evaluate him just like we evaluate everybody else. If he can help our team, help us win football games, he'll be more than welcome."

Sam wanted to get his story out before others told it for him, and his entire focus now is on proving to NFL teams he can do just that.

He doesn't seem himself as a trail blazer, and he's not looking for endorsements or movie deals. He simply wants to be just like the other 300-plus combine participants here.

"I wish you guys would just say, 'Michael Sam, how's football going? How's training going?'" Sam said. "I would love for you to ask me that question. But it is what it is. And I just wish you guys would just see me as Michael Sam the football player instead of Michael Sam the gay football player."