Michael Sam was picked by the St. Louis Rams in the NFL draft on Saturday, becoming the first openly gay player drafted by a pro football team.
Sam had to wait, and wait, being picked at 249 out of 256, and though he cried tears of joy once news came through of his selection, he felt he warranted being chosen earlier.
The defensive end played college football at Missouri, and came out as gay in media interviews earlier this year.
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He had an outstanding final year at college level, being selected as the Southeastern Conference’s defensive player of the year.
“From last season alone, I should’ve been in the first three rounds. SEC Defensive Player of the Year, All-American,” Sam said.
“You know what, who knows? Who knows? Only the people who sit in the war room know,” he said. “They saw Michael Sam, day after day they scratched it off the board. That was their loss. But St. Louis kept me on that board. And you know what I feel like I’m a (Jadeveon) Clowney, a first draft pick. I’m proud of where I am now.”
Sam is considered too short to play defensive end at pro level, and is slower than most outside linebackers, the position he’ll need to transition to at the professional level.
Scouts had pegged him to be a mid- to late-round selection, but he didn’t perform well at the combine, where prospective draftees are put through a series of tests in front of teams’ recruiting staff, and some questioned whether he would be drafted at all.
A few also wondered whether teams would be reluctant to draft Sam because of all the media attention that would come with it.
Had he not been picked he would likely have been signed as a free agent and given a chance to make a team in training camp, but to many it would have looked as if he was being rejected.
Sam was in San Diego watching the draft with friends and family at the home of his agent. ESPN and the NFL Network had cameras there and showed Sam’s reaction.
Sam was on the phone bending over, with his boyfriend hugging him and rubbing his left bicep. When Sam got off the phone, the tears started. He gave his boyfriend a kiss and hug as he cried. After, they shared cake — and another kiss.
“I knew I was going to get picked somewhere,” Sam said. “Every team that passed me, I was thinking how I’m going to sack their quarterback.”
Sam’s selection stole the limelight on the final day of the draft, but there were other significant selections, with much interest centering on three quarterbacks from the Southeast Conference.
A.J. McCarron led Alabama to two national titles, but had to wait until the 164th overall spot to be selected by Cincinnati. Georgia’s Aaron Murray — coming off a serious knee injury —went one pick earlier to Kansas City, while Louisiana State’s Zach Mettenberger didn’t go until the sixth round, to Tennessee.
“There’s no restrictions, no second thought when I’m running, cutting,” Murray said. “It’s full-speed, full-go ahead.”
McCarron expects to learn behind Andy Dalton, who led the Bengals to three straight playoff berths for the first time in franchise history.
“I’m confident in myself, but at the same time, I know Andy’s the QB out there and I respect that,” McCarron said. “If that means me holding the clipboard for a couple of years and giving Andy reports during the week and watching film with him and helping him in any way I can, I’m just ready to do it.”