EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As the St. Louis Rams go through the process of evaluating this year's crop of defensive end prospects in the NFL draft, Missouri defensive end Michael Sam won't be treated different than anybody else.
Sam's Sunday night announcement that he is gay has led to plenty of discussion and reaction around where and how he fits in the NFL. Rams coach Jeff Fisher said Thursday that Sam will be evaluated like any football player of any race, creed or sexual orientation.
"Absolutely not," Fisher said when asked whether he'd have any issues adding an openly gay player. "We were aware of the situation before his courageous announcement. We have a preliminary draft grade on him like we do all of our other prospects and he will be discussed. He's a fine football player and he will be discussed like any other prospect."
Earlier this week, we ran through the reasons why Sam is likely not a fit for the Rams. St. Louis is well-stocked at defensive end with Chris Long, Robert Quinn, William Hayes and Eugene Sims. It's unlikely they'll add an end in the draft unless they determine Jadeveon Clowney is too good to let slip.
Also, Sam is considered a bit of a 'tweener, too small to play defensive end and not athletic enough to stand up as an outside linebacker in the Rams' 4-3 base defense. Still, the Rams' discussions will undoubtedly dig far deeper than the superficial quick evaluation above.
One thing the Rams, just like every other team, will have to consider is whether they have a team and locker room equipped to handle the media crush and attention surrounding adding the NFL's first openly gay player.
Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis thinks too much is being made of that, especially in the diverse St. Louis locker room.
"You experience that first in college, just people that are raised differently, people that come from happily married parents to people that don't even know their parents to people who have never been around drugs, people that have been around them, just people from all different backgrounds," Laurinaitis said. "But you get to know everybody. Football to me brings different backgrounds, races, sexual orientation, all of that together and you basically have a big collaboration of different views. You talk about it in the locker room from time to time but you go out on the football field and try to win games.
"I don't think athletes get a lot of credit. A lot of time the general public just thinks we show up on Sunday and get to see the glory of the fans and the spotlight and the TV and I think really it's a grind. Day in, day out, you're with these guys all the time. Most seasons you are around your teammates more than your wife and gaining a lot of respect for them as you learn who they are as people and where they come from and their story. If you are willing to bring your lunch pail and go to work then you are going to fight for that person no matter what his background or political views or sexual orientation."
As for Sam in particular, Laurinaitis says whether the Rams or some other team drafts him, at the end of the day it always comes back to the simple notion that if you can help a team win games, you're going to be valued.
"I think our coaching staff and our scouts and Les [Snead] and Kevin [Demoff] and them will say 'What's his film say?'" Laurinaitis said. "Everything you hear about Michael from the coach at Missouri and on down is that he's a great leader, he's a heck of a player, Defensive Player of the Year in the SEC, the guy can play football. That's all that matters. If he can play football and help the Rams win then he would fit in great. I think that's true for anybody we pick. Personally, I think the guys in the locker room just want to know if he'd help us win football games by making plays and coming to work and doing things the right way. If he does that, it's all that matters. None of that other stuff matters."