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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Soon after making the decision to make Michael Sam the first openly gay player drafted to the NFL, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher placed a phone call to an old friend.
On the other end of the line was Wade Davis, a former Titans cornerback who came out in 2012 and is now the executive director of the You Can Play project, which is dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes regardless of sexual orientation.
Fisher asked Davis to hop on a plane to St. Louis and deliver that message to his team, his coaching staff and the Rams' front-office staff.
Davis obliged and spent all day Monday talking to the various branches of the Rams organization and back in New York by Tuesday.
"We have a good relationship," Davis said. "After they drafted Sam, he reached out and was like 'Hey, I would like you to deliver a very similar message that you gave at the owners meetings here.' He really thinks it will help his guys understand what it's like to be in the NFL and be gay."
Davis spent the 2000 and 20002 training camps with Fisher's Tennessee Titans before being released before the regular season. But Davis and Fisher maintained a good relationship, one that was buoyed further by a presentation Davis made at the owners meetings in March.
There, Davis led a workshop for all of the coaches in attendance and drew rave reviews for the discussion. Fisher was one of the first coaches to approach Davis and commend him on the presentation.
Upon arrival in St. Louis, Davis spent about 30 minutes speaking to the players and participating in a question and answer session. With the players, Davis made it a point to stress that Sam shouldn't be treated any different than any other player in the locker room setting.
"It's kind of like the same old rules that I can mess with my brother but no one else can," Davis said. "Once you put on the NFL jersey, you become a part of the brotherhood as a family. Just like you protect yourself from the media and fans, you have to do the same thing for Michael.
It's kind of like the same old rules that I can mess with my brother but no one else can. Once you put on the NFL jersey, you become a part of the brotherhood as a family. Just like you protect yourself from the media and fans, you have to do the same thing for Michael.” -- You Can Play executive Wade Davis
"So we talked about the fact that he's a seventh-round draft pick but he's going to be treated like a first-round pick so how do they help him to stay focused on football and not let any of the outside distractions kind of prevent that."
Davis was impressed when the first question from a player was 'How do we support Michael?' and emphasized that the usual locker room jokes that players already share shouldn't be deemed off-limits.
"If you are walking on eggshells around him thinking you can't say certain things to him then he knows he is being treated differently," Davis said. "I made fun of a lot of guys there from the team just to show 'Hey, gay guys have a sense of humor.' We can take a joke too. That's one of the things I've learned from working with a lot of athletes in college is that their straight teammates want to support them but they don't know how."
Davis also wanted the players to know that Sam isn't going to be a tattletale if someone steps out of bounds while the players get to know one another.
"He knows that players aren't going to be perfect so I wanted to reassure them that Michael is not looking to run to the principal's office to say 'Hey, I heard a guy say this or say that,'" Davis said. "He gets it that the guys aren't going to be perfect."
Davis also spent some time with Sam, whom he met shortly before Sam's coming out announcement on ESPN in February. In the time between Sam's announcement and the draft, the two remained in contact with Davis providing some humor and football-specific advice for Sam.
After the discussion with the team, Davis and Sam spent some time with Rams Director of Player Programs La'Roi Glover and discussed how to handle potential distractions.
Davis also offered Sam some advice specific to the Rams because of his long-running ties to Fisher, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, defensive backs coach Chuck Cecil and special teams coach John Fassel, who was a college teammate of Davis.
As a former undrafted free agent, Davis also had some words for Sam about keeping perspective on his place in the locker room.
"He's still a seventh-round draft pick so he's got to keep that in mind and to make sure he doesn't get caught up in thinking he's someone who he's not," Davis said. "There is a pecking order and you have to fall in line to that pecking order."
Davis' stop in St. Louis probably won't be the last such trip he makes to an NFL team facility in the near future. He said he hopes to visit with five to seven more teams and continue to grow the reach of the You Can Play project in conjunction with the NFL.
In the meantime, Davis believes Sam won't have much time to truly grasp the depth of his place in history but that day will come.
"I don't think he's had time to think about it and also because he's in it right now," Davis said. "It probably won't hit him for four or five years. Once he's settled in the league, he's able to step back and kind of that hoopla around him has died down some."