Michael Sam ready for NFL challenge

Updated: February 23, 2014, 1:03 AM ET
By Jeff Legwold | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- With a smile and "hello, I'm Michael Sam," the NFL's first openly gay draft prospect appeared publicly at the league's scouting combine Saturday.

Sporting a rainbow "Stand with Sam," on his combine gear, the former Missouri defensive end said he's ready to tackle any and all issues that come with the questions about him as a football player, as well as a football player who happens to be gay.

"I hope all you guys stand with Sam ... please do," Sam said. "I went to a basketball game against Tennessee, a very kind lady gave it to me. I gave her a hug, I got a lot of support out there."

The Missouri football team was honored at halftime of a Missouri-Tennessee basketball game last weekend. Sam received a standing ovation from the crowd in what had been his first public appearance since announcing he is gay.

Sam's appearance at the combine, as simply DL 42, is his first face-to-face meeting with his future employers since his ground-breaking announcement. The Southeastern Conference's co-Defensive Player of the Year said his focus since then has been to get ready for the combine workout as well as his pro day, but he's prepared for any other issues that may arise.

[+] EnlargeMichael Sam
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergMichael Sam addressed the media Saturday at the NFL scouting combine.

"Heck yeah, I wish you guys would tell me, 'Michael Sam, how's football 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 see me as Michael Sam, the football player, instead of Michael Sam, the gay football player."

Sam said Saturday he's prepared to deal with any prejudice that comes his way as a result of his announcement and that even if the Miami Dolphins were to draft him in the wake of the team's bullying scandal -- the Wells Report, commissioned by the league, revealed many homophobic slurs from players in the team's locker room -- he was excited to simply try to earn a spot on an NFL roster.

"If [the] Miami Dolphins drafted me, I would be excited to be a part of that organization," Sam said. "I'm not afraid about going into that environment. I know how to handle myself, I know how to communicate with my teammates, I know how to communicate with coaches ... and whoever I need to communicate with."

If confronted by a future teammate who had an issue with his sexual orientation, Sam said he would address it with the player.

"If someone wants to call me a name, I will have a conversation with that guys and hopefully it won't lead to nothing else," Sam said.

At 6-foot-1 5/8 inches and 260 pounds, there are football questions surrounding Sam's entry into the league. Too small for some at defensive end in a traditional 4-3 look on defense, Sam does not have much experience as an outside linebacker, and scouts said he struggled some in linebacker drills at the Senior Bowl.

Some teams have pointed out that nine of Sam's 11.5 sacks this past season came in games against Arkansas State, Florida and Vanderbilt.

"I am not a GM, I do not have control over my draft status," Sam said. "All I can control is preparing myself to get the best scores out there ... I'm a pass rusher, if you put me in a situation to get the quarterback, I'm going to get the quarterback. Whoever the coaches, the GMs, this league is a passing league, I like to believe in myself as a good pass rusher."

Sam's on-field workout at the combine with be Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium as the defensive linemen are put through the paces.

Jeff Legwold

ESPN Denver Broncos reporter

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