NFL Nation: Michael Sam
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The spotlight that shined so brightly on Michael Sam immediately after the St. Louis Rams drafted him has dimmed.
The majority of the media attention that once engulfed Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL team, has moved on. Since he came out on ESPN in February, Sam has consistently insisted that he wants it to be all about football.
There have been hiccups along the way, including an excruciating wait to be selected in the seventh round (249th overall) in May's draft, and the ensuing Oprah Winfrey Network "docu-series" which had many wondering whether his focus really was solely on making the roster at one of the team's most crowded positions.
As Sam spoke Friday for the first time since the team started organized team activities, the media horde was about one-third the size of the group that watched him go through a conditioning workout last month, and maybe one-tenth the size of the crew that attended his introductory news conference.
Asked what it was like to finally be back on the field and practicing, Sam lit up.
Along with that grind comes the most important task in this whole deal: making the roster. It's no secret the Rams are well-stocked at defensive end with the quartet of Robert Quinn, Chris Long, William Hayes and Eugene Sims firmly entrenched in their spots on the depth chart.
The Rams have carried additional defensive linemen in the past, employing a fifth end and a ninth lineman for most of last season. The journey to staking a claim to an additional spot began in earnest after Sam was drafted but has elevated to a new level with the beginning of OTAs.
As with most rookies, the adjustment to the size and speed of his teammates has been an eye-opening experience, and it isn't limited to the offensive linemen he's lining up against. Sam has also been impressed by the talent and depth of the defensive linemen with whom he shares a meeting room.
"I'm telling you, they get after it," Sam said. "They compete. I have got to step my game up to compete with this defensive line. I thought our defensive line at Mizzou was pretty tough. This is a whole new level; I've got to up my game.
"The speed, the strength, everything. Coach [Mike] Waufle is getting this defensive line right. This defensive line is probably one of the best in the country."
That said, Sam hasn't lacked for opportunities in the early OTA sessions. With Hayes not practicing, Sam is getting repetitions with the No. 2 defense at left defensive end. In addition, he's working on special teams, an area he's vaguely familiar with from his time at Mizzou, but he needs refreshing. He is also working to shed a few pounds from his listed weight of 261 in an effort to improve his speed and contribute on coverage units.
In Thursday's practice, Sam even made his presence felt in a minor scuffle with running back Isaiah Pead. After the pair got tangled during a play, Pead shoved Sam, who responded with a shove of his own. It was quickly broken up in no small part because coach Jeff Fisher had already made it clear the fighting had gone too far after a pair of earlier dustups.
Off the field, Sam has spent almost all his time trying to learn a new defense and the many nuances of coordinator Gregg Williams' scheme.
Williams is constantly buzzing around the practices and making his voice heard during drills, and Sam has quickly picked up on the idea that if he is doing the wrong thing, Williams will let him hear about it. Sam said he has seen plenty of similarities to Mizzou defensive coordinator Les Steckel and defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski.
Sam has also leaned on veteran ends Long and Quinn in the early going and has benefited from the Rams' former Mizzou players as he acclimates, such as receiver T.J. Moe, center Tim Barnes and cornerback E.J. Gaines.
Soon after drafting Sam, the Rams endeavored to find ways to make him feel comfortable. They brought in Wade Davis, the former Tennessee Titan and current executive director of the You Can Play project, which is dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes regardless of sexual orientation.
Davis spent time talking to the Rams' players, coaches and staff members and answered any questions thrown his way. It's just one example of how the Rams have made Sam feel at ease.
"It's a comfortable environment," Sam said. "Coach Fisher and the rest of the staff are making this a comfortable environment for me, and it is.
"I almost feel like home, which it is home. It is still Missouri."
Now comes the hard part: doing enough on the field to make it a more permanent residence.
Fisher long has made it clear that he'd prefer to keep a sense of normalcy around his team during training camp and the season and "Hard Knocks" easily could be viewed as a distraction the team doesn't need.
That's probably true, this year more than ever.
Fisher reiterated his stance to the Associated Press on Monday, saying it's "probably unlikely" the NFL will choose his team to appear on the show, though that decision still rests in the hands of the league.
After the Rams made it clear that the potential Michael Sam docuseries on OWN was not something they wanted going on during camp, it only stands to reason that they wouldn't want "Hard Knocks," either.
"Not good for the locker room," Fisher told the AP. "Nor Mike to get involved at this point."
While the Rams don't really have a choice in the matter, it's also logical the league would consider choosing the Rams for its own docuseries. The league could force the Rams to participate and be the ones who garner the ratings and revenue that go with documenting Sam's pursuit of a roster spot (and any other Rams storylines they'd choose to create).
Of course, choosing the Rams would also come off as a bit hypocritical by the NFL. Late last week, the league denied any previous knowledge of the plans for the Sam documentary and made it known it wasn't on board with that series.
Beyond that, the Rams drafting Sam had to be looked at as a positive for the league as a whole. Going against the wishes of the team to film a TV series wouldn't exactly be rewarding the Rams for making that historic choice.
Taking it further, Fisher long has been loyal to the league, serving on the competition committee for many years. With other options available, that certainly wouldn't hurt the Rams' chances of getting what they want in this situation though some in the organization wouldn't have minded the additional exposure the show would provide.
Ultimately, the Rams' efforts to avoid "Hard Knocks" are probably best for a franchise that needs to take the same approach as Sam and make it all about football. This is an important season for Fisher and the team as they enter their third season together. Although the first two years of the Fisher regime have resulted in improvement in the form of a pair of seven-win seasons, the team has targeted 2014 as a breakout season.
That's not going to be easy in the difficult NFC West division, which makes any possible distraction something this year's Rams clearly don't need.
But there still remains another possibility that could result in the Rams being featured on the small screen. Namely, the HBO series 'Hard Knocks' has yet to announce the team it will follow during 2014's training camp. And the Rams are one of eight teams the NFL can force to participate.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher has generally been opposed to the idea and clearly wasn't enthused with the potential distraction of the Sam docuseries. The organization and the NFL had some brief discussions about putting the Rams on the show last year but those talks didn't progress.
Last week, Fisher was asked if he'd be open to the idea while appearing on Dan Patrick's radio show.
"You know I probably would have to give that some thought," Fisher told Patrick. "I think I would prefer, actually, to maintain a sense of privacy in our building, as most coaches would. But I think we'll cross that path if we need to."
To this point, the Rams have not been formally asked to do it and there are no indications that they plan to volunteer for the job, either. But that doesn't mean the Rams are out of the mix. In fact, one could build a case that the Rams might be the most appealing of the pool of eight candidates the league can force to participate in the series.
New measures were approved in October which allows the NFL to choose a team to participate so long as it meets the following qualifications:
1. The franchise has not appeared on the show within the past 10 years.
2. The franchise has not hired a new head coach in the offseason.
3. The franchise has not reached the playoffs in either of the previous two seasons.
After that announcement was made, Fisher was asked what his opinion on the possibility was. He opted not to voice his opinion but has previously made it known it's not an idea he's too keen on. I asked multiple players what they would think of it then and that was met with multiple eye-rolls.
This time, though, the Rams might not have a choice and it would make sense if the league chose them. After Sam's agent told ESPN's NFL Live that the league was aware of plans for Sam's docuseries, the league quickly responded and made it known it was not aware of the idea nor had it approved the use of logos, brands, etc.
The Sam docuseries was postponed in no small part because the Rams were a bit taken back by it and had no plans to offer additional access. But the league can do whatever it wants and it stands to reason that if someone was going to document Sam's journey through training camp (and the rest of the team's), the NFL would want to do it via its own vehicle.
Barring a team outside of the list of eight teams who can be forced to do the show, the NFL will choose from a group that includes the Chicago Bears, New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers, Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders, in addition to St. Louis.
There are plenty of story lines there including popular teams in large markets such as the Giants and Bears. Last month, reports surfaced the league had narrowed the choices to the Steelers, Giants and Bears though those reports later proved inaccurate.
And while those choices would all make sense, none offer the historic aspect of Sam's pursuit of a roster spot combined with the overall intrigue of a young team looking to make a move in the league's toughest division.
Fisher has a longstanding relationship with the league as a prominent member of the competition committee. If indeed he doesn't want the camera crews rolling into Earth City, perhaps that could help his cause. And there are some in the Rams organization who wouldn't mind the exposure from a marketing standpoint.
Ultimately, the decision belongs to the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell.
The Rams avoided one potential television distraction already but another still lurks.
The Rams' 25-player rookie class stepped on the practice field at Rams Park on Friday morning for what really amounted to a glorified conditioning session. Defensive end Michael Sam, offensive tackle Greg Robinson and their 23 rookie teammates went through a variety of position drills, special-teams work and conditioning drills during the 90-minute session.
It was the second such session for the group since the rookies began arriving on Monday but the first open to the media. A relatively large media contingent turned out for a workout that included no real football or any sort of media availability upon its completion.
And yes, the docuseries camera crew from the Oprah Winfrey Network was in attendance.
Instead of a normal minicamp, Rams coach Jeff Fisher is using this time as a sort of orientation for his rookies. All 11 of the team's drafted rookies and 14 of their undrafted rookies (the team released tackle Emmanuel McCray on Thursday) were on hand for the workout.
Without enough bodies for 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 drills, the players did plenty of position-specific drills and special-teams coach John Fassel got in his share of time as well. Sam worked at left defensive end in line drills but also did quite a bit of special-teams work. Sam even stayed a few minutes after the workout to get some additional special-teams instruction from Fassel.
The same rookie group will work out again Saturday before mixing in with the veterans on Monday. From there, the Rams have two more weeks of the offseason conditioning program before organized team activities begin on June 3.
"Let me tell you something, if we were playing the Vikings right now, I'd probably have three sacks the first game," Sam said. "Since February and my big announcement, this has been a whole [lot of] speculation of the first openly gay football player. But you know what? It's not about that. It's about playing football."
As Sam attempts to blaze a trail as the first openly gay athlete to compete in the NFL, it's expected that his journey could hit rough spots and cause consternation among peers. We asked several Hall of Famers before last week's draft about Sam and how he might be received in an NFL locker room.
Some pondered the unknown, while Redskins Hall of Fame running back Bobby Mitchell even said that Sam could be subject to harsh remarks from “some nut.” Having played in a vastly different NFL from the one we see today, most of the Hall of Famers expect Sam to be embraced by teammates and peers around the league. Ultimately, it’s about what Sam brings to the team as a player, not his personal relationships outside the locker room, according to the Hall of Famers.
“I’m not saying some nut over in the corner just wanting to be an ass won’t say something,” Mitchell said. “You know how crazy we athletes are. And I know it was tough for him [to reveal his sexuality] because he knows how crazy we are. It was tough for him to come out, I'm sure, because he doesn't know which faction is going to come out first. I don't think he's going to have any problem."
Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson played in the 1980s for the New York Giants with Roy Simmons, who announced he was gay after leaving the NFL. Carson considers the Sam story a nonissue and said he’s proud of the defensive end.
"We all have our lives to live and choose to live the way we want to live," Carson said. "When ballplayers get together, as long as you can play the game -- that's the thing -- if you can help the team win, we have no problem."
"If there are five [NFL players] sitting around and nobody is listening to us, this subject never comes up. Why would I make a comment on it? I wouldn't make a comment on it when we played. I'm certain we knew some guys may or may not have been gay, but we just didn't think about it. We played football. We didn't care what anybody does as long as they perform on the field. When guys sit around the room and there's nobody there to ask them questions, the subject doesn't come up."
-- Tight end Dave Casper, Raiders (1974-80, '84), Oilers (1980-83), Vikings (1983)
-- Cornerback Michael Haynes (Patriots 1976-82), (Raiders 1983-89)
-- Halfback/flanker Bobby Mitchell (Browns 1958-61), Redskins (1962-68)
-- Linebacker Harry Carson (Giants 1976-88)
-- Barry Sanders (Lions, 1989-98)
-- Roger Wehrli (Cardinals 1969-82)
-- Lem Barney (Lions 1967-77)
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- It should come as no surprise that St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher contacted former player Wade Davis to speak to his team about how to embrace and accept Michael Sam, the league’s first openly gay player.
Fisher has a long history of finding ways to build the right chemistry on his teams. He also has been doing it long enough to construct an equally impressive Rolodex that he can call upon when needed.
Having Davis, who played for Fisher in the early 2000s but didn’t come out as gay until 2012, speak to the team on Monday at Rams Park was a smart move.
It also wasn’t the only Sam-related news to come out Wednesday evening. The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) announced it had purchased the rights to a documentary series following Sam’s life.
The release from the network included the following from Sam in a statement.
"If seeing my story helps somebody else accept who they are and to go for their dreams too, that's great. I am thankful to Oprah for her support and excited to work together."
For as wise as it was for Fisher to bring Davis in to help his team and staff better understand what it is to have a gay teammate, it’s fair to wonder if the documentary series is equally unwise.
After speaking with Davis, it’s easy to understand why Fisher chose him to make the presentation. Davis speaks eloquently on inclusion and equality but also has a football background, which allows him to connect with current players.
In recounting his visit with the team, Davis said he spent time with Sam and Rams director of player programs La’Roi Glover. The discussion was focused on how to make Sam’s life as football-centric as possible.
“He’s got to bear down and say football is the No. 1 thing in my life right now and nothing else is going to interfere with that,” Davis said. “The great thing I love is that Michael’s first question to La’Roi Glover was, 'How do we remove all distractions?'”
Well, one way to limit distractions would be to eschew media requests that go above and beyond the normal duties of an NFL player.
While it’s certainly understandable to want to document a groundbreaking, historic story, it also doesn’t seem conducive to making it all about football, which was the message Sam delivered repeatedly throughout his introductory news conference Tuesday.
For their part, the Rams did not know about the Sam documentary before drafting him but were informed soon after the choice was made.
According to a report from ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell, Sam’s representatives had been negotiating the deal for the past two months. But just because the deal was made and the series was in the works before the Rams drafted him doesn’t mean they will be allowing any special access.
In fact, the Rams don’t plan to allow any special coverage of Sam, including to those filming the documentary. In other words, the film crew will have the same media access as everyone else for anything taking place at Rams Park or any other team events.
Those restrictions should limit any undue distractions for the team, but can the same be said for Sam as he pursues a roster spot?
The transition to the NFL is a difficult one for any rookie and the amount of attention Sam has already drawn will likely continue even if it tapers off some in the next few weeks.
Sure, Sam will spend most of his days at Rams Park unencumbered with the rest of his teammates, but the cameras will be waiting for him when he leaves.
Based on Fisher’s efforts to bring Davis to town to speak to his team and the other measures being put in place by the Rams organization, they’re doing all they can to ensure Sam’s surroundings are as comfortable as possible.
Whether Sam is doing the same for himself away from Rams Park remains to be seen.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The spotlights are off, the media have dispersed and the wait is over.
For Michael Sam, the St. Louis Rams' newest addition at defensive end and the first openly gay player drafted to the NFL, it's time to get down to business.
Less than an hour after Sam's introductory news conference, the majority of the circus tents have been packed up. All that remains for Sam to do is play football.
"Will I make the cut?" Sam said. "You'll want to find out in a couple months, huh? I use little things to motivate me and make me a better player. Thank God for you guys for making this all a big deal because it's just going to make me even a better player than I am now."
Make no mistake, the attention will continue. It will ebb and flow with every landmark event along the way, be it an organized team activity, a minicamp, a training camp practice or a preseason game.
But for now, Sam is over the first hurdle and can now fully focus on the many more in front of him as he attempts to make the roster.
Asked if he took even a moment to appreciate the gravity of being the first openly gay player drafted, Sam didn't hesitate. In his mind, the sooner the focus turns to football, the sooner the attention will taper.
Before meeting with the media Tuesday afternoon, Sam got his first introduction to his new teammates. Upon arrival at Rams Park on Monday night and Tuesday morning, Sam watched his veteran defensive line mates go through a workout.
Whether it was Chris Long or Robert Quinn or any of the other teammates, the message from each was a familiar refrain.
"They came to me and it was like, ‘Welcome to the family, let's get to work,'" Sam said. "That's what we're going to do."
Part of that work will fall on others within the organization. They must carefully tend to media requests, monitoring how much Sam is out in the community and walk the fine line between marketing him -- there will be new Rams fans he inherently brings -- and exploiting him.
Over the weekend and into Tuesday, those conversations had already begun. From a media standpoint, Sam won't be doing interviews every day. The team will make him available on a limited basis.
"I think we've heard a lot of things, a lot of people excited about the leadership and step that we took," Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff said. "Certainly we have heard some negative as well. You are going to get both throughout the process.
"That's something that we knew and we discussed on Saturday if this was going to come to be. If you're going to take a leadership position by drafting Michael then I think you have to expect both the good and the bad, and we're prepared for it and I think we'll shine through it."
The question then becomes whether Sam will have the ability to shine on the practice field and land a roster spot. After going through the grueling pre-draft process in which his football activities were limited to running around in shorts and a T-shirt at the scouting combine and his pro day, Sam is eager to regain some sense of normalcy.
No place provides that type of sanctuary more than the football field, the one place he goes to cancel any outside noise. By the time he returns to that place, Sam figures to be carrying an extra large chip on his shoulder.
"I'm determined to be great," Sam said. "I'm determined to make this team. I have every confidence in myself that I will make this team."
The Rams' schedule for the next week will serve as a sort of orientation for the rookies. They'll be kept separate from the veterans as they work on their conditioning.
There will be no media availability during that time, and Sam and the rest of the rookies will get their playbooks and do film work with their teammates. On Monday, the whole team will come together for more workouts as they build toward OTAs.
The coaching staff's plan for Sam offers no surprises. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has already retired to his lab to come up with packages in which Sam could fit and defensive line coach Mike Waufle has plans on adding more moves to Sam's pass-rush repertoire.
"Anyone who watched him play sees special traits," Fisher said. "We'll have the capability provided that he's able to get from Point A, which is right now, to Point B through camp. We'll have the capability and potential to package him up and get him in defensive packages. We'll stress the importance of his contributions to special teams and all those types of things, so the work is just getting started. We're looking forward to being part of this journey."
The initial pomp and circumstance is over. The real journey begins now.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In nearly every possible way -- except one -- defensive end Michael Sam's fit in St. Louis should be easy and comfortable.
But the exception is a big one, the one that matters most when it comes to Sam's long-term future in the NFL.
For any defensive end, whether added through free agency or in the 2014 NFL draft, cracking the Rams' two-deep depth chart at defensive end figures to be a difficult task. For Sam, a seventh-round pick who doesn't come with the "find him a place to play" pedigree of say South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, it's going to be even tougher.
Put aside Sam working to become the first openly gay player to make an NFL roster after the Rams used the 249th overall selection on him Saturday night, he's joining one of the league's most crowded defensive line rooms, particularly when it comes to his position on the edge.
“Well, it’s going to be very competitive for him, as it will be for some of the other guys, the later picks, because of the depth and the talent level at the position," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "He’s going to have to come in, and like the rest of his new teammates, these rookies, they’re not in shape. Not in the condition our veterans are in. He’s going to have to work to get in great shape and we'll blend him in the offseason program and we’ll go.”
Forget for a moment that Sam is a seventh-round pick in an 11-man draft class and there's no guarantee any of the team's four seventh-round selections will make the roster. Looking closer at the quartet sitting in front of him, Sam has his work cut out for him.
Here's what each of the four players in front of Sam brings to the table:
- Robert Quinn is the reigning Pro Football Writer's NFL defensive player of the year, a first-team All Pro and coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance. Quinn had 19 sacks and seven forced fumbles in 2013.
- Chris Long is the most tenured veteran on the team, entering his seventh season in the league. Since his arrival in 2008, Long has 50.5 sacks, which is sixth among defensive ends in that period.
- William Hayes is one of the most productive backup ends in the league and is paid as such, receiving a three-year deal for $10.5 million in the 2013 offseason. Hayes, who has often moved inside on passing downs, has averaged six sacks per season the past two years and is one of the better run defenders among ends in the league.
- Eugene Sims might be the least acknowledged of the group, but like Hayes, possesses the versatility to play all over the line. He, too, was rewarded with a two-year contract extension last offseason.
But just because Sam is joining a crowded and talented group doesn't mean all hope is lost.
Of the 48 players drafted in the seventh round in 2013, 47 were on an active roster -- though not many seventh-rounders make the game-day active roster. Over the past five years, 240 players have been picked in the seventh round, 60 of them played in Week 1 as rookies.
Although the Rams have a solid quartet in front of Sam, there's also no guarantee they'll only keep four at the position. Fisher's affinity for defensive linemen, especially pass-rushers, has seen the Rams carry more than a simple two-deep.
In 2012, the Rams carried nine defensive linemen into the opening week of the season though they had an extra body at tackle, not end.
Last year, however, the Rams went heavy on defensive ends, carrying nine linemen with a fifth end for 14 games.
Undrafted rookie Gerald Rivers was that fifth end and on the roster for 13 games before injuries at other positions near the end of the season led to his release. Rivers was only active for two of those 13 games but made the roster as a result of his pass-rush abilities.
Sammy Brown, a pass-rushing type who the Rams stashed on the practice squad most of the year, was called up for the final game of the season but was inactive.
In keeping an extra end, the Rams have seemingly preferred noticeable upside as a pass rusher but as with all late-round picks, special teams value might be the golden ticket to the 53-man roster.
Contributions in that regard will be part of the plan for Sam.
"He will," Fisher said. "Everybody that we selected [Saturday], with the exception of the big guys, will make some kind of contribution to our special teams.”
Many have wondered if there will be additional pressure on the Rams or any team drafting Sam to keep him for fear of public backlash. Fisher quickly put that to rest when asked about it Saturday.
“I would say no because we picked him within the process and we’re going to reduce this roster within the process," Fisher said. "So, I don’t see that being an issue.”
Fisher and general manager Les Snead insist Sam was drafted for purely football reasons. Those same reasons will make it difficult for him to stay.
It took the Dolphins' organization just one day to make a swift and stern ruling on defensive back Don Jones. On Saturday the second-year player tweeted critical comments about Michael Sam, who became the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team. By Sunday, the Dolphins' brass met with Jones and wasted little time handing out his punishment.
Jones was fined an undisclosed amount, excused from the team and required to undergo educational training. Jones cannot return to the Dolphins until that training is complete, according to the team.
The Dolphins were wise to take a hard stance on this issue. For starters, the Dolphins' locker room has had enough issues in the past year with their bullying scandal and cannot add any form of intolerance to that list. Second, the team is letting its players know that further missteps on social media are unacceptable. The team also had a sit-down meeting with Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey after his recent comments on Twitter that first-round pick Ja'Wuan James would have to buy him gifts. The tweet was in poor taste after Pouncey was one of the culprits in Miami's bullying scandal.
Jones will have to pay the price for his mistakes. But, more importantly, he must learn from it. During a historic moment for the NFL and society in general, Jones was the only known player in the league to publicly bash Sam. Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey was quick to point out Jones doesn't represent the views of the organization.
Jones did issue an apology to Sam on Sunday night.
"I want to apologize to Michael Sam for the inappropriate comments that I made last night on social media," Jones said. "I take full responsibility for them and I regret that these tweets took away from his draft moment. I remember last year when I was drafted in the seventh round and all of the emotions and happiness I felt when I received the call that gave me an opportunity to play for an NFL team and I wish him all the best in his NFL career."
Following a controversial 2013 season, Miami is the last team that needs negative press from its players. This is why the Dolphins set an example with Jones.
Miami is trying to change the culture in its locker room this year. Having a low tolerance for these kind of issues is the best approach.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Soon after the St. Louis Rams used the 249th overall choice on Michael Sam, President Barack Obama offered congratulations to Sam and the Rams for the historic moment.
Via a statement issued through the White House, Obama praised the Rams and Sam for their respective courage in making the Missouri defensive end the first openly gay football player to be taken in the NFL draft.
“The President congratulates Michael Sam, the Rams and the NFL for taking an important step forward today in our Nation’s journey. From the playing field to the corporate boardroom, LGBT Americans prove everyday that you should be judged by what you do and not who you are,” the statement read.
The president's words were just a few of the mostly overwhelming support Sam and the Rams received in the minutes and hours after the choice was made.
Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres was among a number of celebrities to take to Twitter to offer congratulations to the Rams and Sam.
Sam and the rest of the Rams' rookie class is scheduled to arrive in St. Louis on Monday with media availability set for Tuesday afternoon.
On Friday, Hickey called an impromptu media gathering at the Dolphins' facility to make a statement on Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey, who tweeted "I can't wait for our gifts he's getting us," when Miami selected first-round right tackle Ja'Wuan James. The following night Hickey had to address controversial tweets by second-year player Don Jones' toward Michael Sam, who became the first openly gay player drafted in the NFL.
“I was made aware of it and I was disappointed in those comments," Hickey said of Jones. "That's not what we stand for as an organization.”
The pair of incidents in a short span highlighted the fact that Miami hasn’t completely fixed its locker room culture. As much as the team has worked on all that went wrong last year during “Bullygate,” there is still plenty of work to be done in the area of social media. The Dolphins cannot overlook this form of communication. They must do a better job of educating their players. As a general rule, Dolphins players should “think before you tweet.”
So far Miami has been too reactive -- instead of proactive -- with issues of social media. The Dolphins met with Pouncey after his comments and will do the same with Jones. It's probably time for Miami’s brass to also hold a widespread team meeting during offseason workouts before this social media issue gets out of hand and causes more problems for the organization.
It would be easier if the Dolphins, a billion-dollar brand, could ban all their players from using social media and simply concentrate on football. But that's not a realistic approach and a proper way to treat employees. Education, communication and a low tolerance are the best ways for Miami to fix this issue.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Less than two hours east down Interstate 70 from his college stomping grounds at the University of Missouri, Michael Sam will take his shot at becoming the first openly gay player in the NFL.
The St. Louis Rams used the 249th overall selection on Sam on Saturday night, giving him the opportunity to begin his NFL career in surroundings that should be about as comfortable as possible for a player transitioning to the game's highest level.
That isn't to say Sam won't have his share of challenges. Whenever you're the first to do something, there likely will be bumps along the way. Sam knows what awaits.
On a macro level, St. Louis provides a smaller media market through which Sam should be able to go about his business without much distraction. St. Louis is also home to countless University of Missouri alumni, a group that has spent the past four years rooting for Sam in Columbia.
Even Rams owner Stan Kroenke holds multiple Mizzou degrees and maintains a residence in Columbia.
Further, Sam enters a locker room and a defensive line that is overflowing with diverse and eclectic personalities.
It's a group led by former Marine turned line coach Mike Waufle and includes notorious pranksters Chris Long and William Hayes, among many other characters.
"It's going to be a mess in that room now," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said, a smile creeping across his face. "It's going to be fun."
Forgetting for a moment the microscope that likely will stay focused on him throughout the offseason and into training camp, Sam is walking into a group that will keep him on his toes on and off the field.
"Yeah, Michael does not know what he's getting himself into," Rams general manager Les Snead said.
The Rams defensive line has been one of the best in the league the past two years and boasts players from all different walks of life.
Long, the son of Hall of Famer Howie Long, sets the tone with his playful approach in the locker room. But he's all business otherwise.
"We have a heck of a room," Long said. "Coach Waufle works us hard. We work hard. We are a fun group and we are always going to be the liveliest group on the field, too. I think that those guys love playing tough football and working hard which when you watch tape of them, they do that. I really enjoy being part of our defensive line. We're trying to be tone-setters. We have a long way to go and certainly the addition of guys like Michael helps."
There's also Eugene Sims, a quiet unassuming type from Mount Olive, Mississippi.
Robert Quinn is the best player of the bunch, a freak of an athlete who is about as humble as emerging superstars come.
The list goes on.
What's more, Sam won't just be surrounded by players who figure to be welcoming: They will also serve as mentors, willing to help him improve.
"It's not only a great opportunity to be around a diverse group in there but I think he has a lot of guys in that room he can learn from football-wise," defensive captain James Laurinaitis said. "I think that's the most important thing. He has guys like Robert and Chris and William and Eugene. There's a lot of guys that are really good football players and obviously the competition is really deep there in that room.
If, for some reason, a problem pops up, Sam also has the benefit of playing for one of the most respected coaches in the league. Fisher makes a consistent effort to keep tabs on the locker room and won't hesitate to step in if someone steps out of line.
"If there's an issue there, I will address it as it would relate to any other form of discrimination or anything that I would feel was offensive from a diversity standpoint," Fisher said. "No different."
As Sam spoke to the media Saturday night, his excitement to join the Rams was unmistakable. Through the course of the conversation, Sam adamantly tried to discuss football instead of his sexuality.
Soon enough, Sam will get his chance to put aside all talk of his life off the field to prove himself on the field. The competition at a loaded position will be tough. Making the roster is no sure thing.
But if it doesn't happen for Sam, it won't be because of anything aside from good old-fashioned competition.
"I think the reaction you see from people on our team out on Twitter and all of that just shows we have got a group of guys that all we care about is are you going to come in and help this football team win football games and get to where we want to go?" Laurinaitis said. "That answer is definitely yes."
My take: Thomas was a great value pick at No. 100 overall, but he won't help this year. He tore his ACL while working out for the New Orleans Saints recently. He will probably miss all of his rookie year but is expected to be a long-term starter. With Mike Iupati a free agent next year, this is a good get for the future.
Follows trend: This pick is no surprise. Last year, the 49ers -- equipped with extra picks and few needs -- took defensive lineman Tank Carradine and running back Marcus Lattimore. Both were coming off torn ACLs. Like Thomas, they were high-value picks.
What's next: The 49ers have seven picks Saturday -- Nos. 106, 129, 150, 170, 180 243 and 245. I doubt they'll use all seven, they just don't have the roster room. Expect more trades up and more trades for next season. However, with so many late picks Saturday, I wonder if they would use one on Missouri pass-rusher Michael Sam, who is poised to become the first openly gay active NFL player. Sam seems to fit the 49ers' defensive scheme.
CLEVELAND — Harry Carson was in awe.
There, sitting across from the former New York Giants inside linebacker in a private room designated for NFL Hall of Fame VIPs was his idol: Claude Humphrey.
“Claude Humphrey was one of my heroes. He was one of my role models as a defensive player,” a still partially starstruck Carson said. “I’m sitting there and I tried to tell him how much I tried to pattern my game after him.”
Other football fans were in amazement Saturday as they, too, met some of their gridiron heroes at the first of its kind Pro Football Hall of Fame Fan Fest at the International Exposition Center. The two-day event, featuring players such as Jim Brown, Barry Sanders and Franco Harris, has been billed as the largest gathering of Hall of Famers outside of the annual enshrinement celebration each August in nearby Canton, Ohio. More than 100 Hall of Fame players were expected to attend.
Several of the former players who were present Saturday spoke with reporters about a variety of issues including Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s lifetime ban from the NBA, Johnny Manziel’s rock star status, the NFL’s emphasis on concussion safety, and Michael Sam’s anticipated debut as the league’s first openly gay player.
When it came to Sterling, Carson applauded the lifetime ban the league handed down after Sterling’s racist rant was publicized last week.
“I’m glad that at some point it eventually came out,” Carson said, “because I would not want to play for a team with an owner feeling that way. I may have played for coaches who may have felt that way, but they kept it to themselves. There are people who whenever they go home they might use that language, but don’t use that language in front of me.
“Once you put that uniform on, you’re not black, you’re not white. You are those colors but you’re out there fighting for one another.”
Former Vikings and Buccaneers offensive guard Randall McDaniel was somewhat critical in his remarks on Manziel’s off-field behavior in college.
“He needs to grow up a little more,” McDaniel said. “Yeah, he has a lot of talent, he has a lot of ability, but he still needs to mature a little more before he gets in this league.”
Len Dawson, a former Chiefs, Browns and Steelers quarterback, agreed when asked about the former Texas A&M quarterback, who is expected to be taken in the first round of next week’s draft.
On Sam, Sanders said: “From the time that you’re a kid and you start playing, your major focus you’re almost programmed to look for is, OK, can a guy play or not? Once you get to the NFL, that’s well-ingrained in you.”
The fan fest wasn’t all about serious issues. There was fun, too.
“Well, I love this whole football thing, and Barry Sanders is one of my favorite players, so we signed up for the autograph session and we were able to get him to sign one of my cards,” 12-year-old Joe Dietrich said. “That was really cool.”
What might have been even cooler, though, was Dietrich’s trip to Cleveland from his hometown St. Paul, Minnesota. The flight he and his mother Jeanne Dietrich were on sat five Hall of Famers, including McDaniel. While waiting in the boarding area, Jeanne Dietrich took photos of Joe with the players on her iPhone.
The Dietrichs weren’t the only ones taking photos with the players. The players were doing the same thing with each other, pausing on occasion to take Hall of Fame selfies that Ellen DeGeneres would envy.
“Gale Sayers, that was my hero,” McDaniel said. “I did a book report on him when I was in school and I told him about that. And then you’re sitting there going, ‘Aw man, I can’t believe I just said that to him.’
“And then I grabbed him around the head and took a self-picture with him. But no, just to be around them, it’s like living history that you’re around and any time you get to be around those guys, it’s just great.”
Weatherspoon was a senior at Missouri in 2009 when Sam was a redshirt freshman.
"I was happy Mike was able to come out and be himself," Weatherspoon said Monday, his first public comments about his former college teammate. "I think the thing right now is that he would rather focus on football. But it's kind of tough, with everybody just wanting to talk about the potential of a gay player being in the locker room. To me, it's not a problem. I've already been in the locker room with Michael. Guys didn't talk about it, but we all kind of knew."
Sam publicly acknowledged his sexuality in February. Several months earlier, before the 2013 college football season, he came out to his Missouri teammates. Weatherspoon, who remains close to the Missouri program and attends Tigers game when possible, knew about that meeting.
“In training camp is when they talked about it,” Weatherspoon said. “And that's when I knew about [Sam's sexuality], because I have young little brothers still there.”
The Missouri players kept word of Sam's announcement inside the program, respecting their teammate's decision to come out publicly on his own terms.
“That's just how we are out there," Weatherspoon said of the tight bond between members of the program. "It's really a different place. ... That support is there. The coaches do a good job of attracting guys that are about family. And you get that family feel. Like people say, 'Family is everything.' Even though it's an extended family, it's still our family.”
The next phase for Sam is proving to NFL personnel that he's more than a "tweener" and is capable of making plays as a pass rusher in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defensive scheme. He wasn't overly impressive at the NFL combine, although he did improve his numbers during Missouri's pro day. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay initially gave Sam a fourth-round grade.
"For right now, my advice to Mike is just to make sure you stay in shape because at the end of the day, it doesn't matter who you date," Weatherspoon said. "It's all about what you do on Sundays. That's going to determine how long you play here. The main thing is football.
"We are in a time where the locker room has not matured yet. But Mike, he's a guy with a great sense of humor. I think after a while, it won't be a big deal at all. Hopefully it's not going to be a big deal to the team he goes to."
1:00 PM ET New Orleans Atlanta 1:00 PM ET Minnesota St. Louis 1:00 PM ET Cleveland Pittsburgh 1:00 PM ET Jacksonville Philadelphia 1:00 PM ET Oakland New York 1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Baltimore 1:00 PM ET Buffalo Chicago 1:00 PM ET Washington Houston 1:00 PM ET Tennessee Kansas City 1:00 PM ET New England Miami 4:25 PM ET Carolina Tampa Bay 4:25 PM ET San Francisco Dallas 8:30 PM ET Indianapolis Denver