INDIANAPOLIS — There was no announcement for his arrival. Missouri DE Michael Sam merely strode up to the podium and announced himself to the assembled media at the NFL scouting combine.
"Good afternoon, my name is Michael Sam. I play football for the University of Missouri," he said.
Two weeks ago, Sam made an announcement that stirred the football world — and beyond. He revealed that he is gay, which could make him the first openly homosexual NFL player if he can make a team's roster this fall.
Sam the football player, who was the co-SEC defensive player of the year in 2013 for the 12-2 Tigers, will test and work out at the combine. But the story of Sam's sexuality took center stage on Saturday. He handled the barrage of questions about his personal life with ease and humor but did admit he wishes the focus was elsewhere.
"Heck yeah, I wish you guys [the media] would just say, ‘Michael Sam, how’s football?’ I would love for you to ask me that question," he said. "I wish you guys would see me as Michael Sam the football player instead of Michael Sam the gay football player."
But on it went for most of the 13-minute session and an audience that was several hundred deep, with questions that were primarily about his being gay.
Sam was asked if, in light of the Miami Dolphins' hazing scandal — which revealed some homophobic comments in the 144-page Wells Report — he worried about entering such a potentially toxic situation.
"If the Miami Dolphins drafted me, I would be ecstatic," Sam said. "I am not afraid to go into that environment. I know how to handle myself, I know how to communicate with my teammates, coaches and other staff, whoever I need to communicate with."
Since the announcement, Sam said the positive reaction has outweighed the negative.
"I am kind of surprised, really," he said. "There's a lot of support out there."
Even though Mizzou teammate and great friend L'Damian Washington said Friday that "Michael Sam is the toughest guy I know," Sam said the decision to reveal his sexuality and bring his story to the world has "made [him] tougher."
But Sam also wanted to fall back on his resumé as a player, and he believes he can make his mark in the NFL — despite not ideal measurables of 6-foot-1 and 260 pounds — as a pass rusher.
"I want to play for whoever picks me up as a defensive end or an outside linebacker to rush that passer," he said. "I'm a pass rusher. If you put me in position to get the quarterback, I'm going to get the quarterback. I can drop back in coverage as well. My specialty is rushing the passer."
When asked, on the final question of the media session, about his inconsistent sack production — nine of his 11 1/2 sacks came in three games against lesser competition — Sam made his last at-bat count.
"Winning is hard, buddy," Sam said, causing an uproar of laughter. "There are going to be games where I might not get a sack, but throughout the games I was consistent. I did have some inconsistency, but for the most part, we as a defensive line as a whole did put a lot of pressure on quarterbacks, we made them uncomfortable and [made them] run away or throw it out of bounds."
Sam didn't run away from anything in his first meeting with the NFL media. In fact, he pretty much dominated that first, small but notable test. With that, Sam said, "God bless you" and walked off to move onto the next phase of his football life.
- - - - - - -