Exactly 90 days passed between when Missouri defensive end Michael Sam announced that he was gay and when the Rams made him the 249th overall selection in the 2014 NFL draft.
Consider all that transpired for Sam between those 90 days. Anonymous executives and scouts suggested that his draft stock would plunge following his announcement because NFL locker rooms weren’t prepared to deal with an openly gay player. Some veteran players also questioned how accepted Sam would be if and when he’d reach the league, while others pondered if he would be drafted at all.
He went to Mobile in January for the Senior Bowl and struggled. Teams that implement 3-4 schemes wanted to see how’d he perform at linebacker, and the results weren’t pretty: He lacked the range and athleticism to play on the edge. Things didn’t get better when he worked out at the Combine. He ran a 4.92 forty and posted a 25.5-inch vertical. Those numbers were more comparable to an undrafted free agent than a fifth-round prospect, where some had projected him to be selected.
So, Sam waited. And waited. And waited.
After racking up 10.5 sacks on his way to being named SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year, Sam watched as players from mighty Marist, Bloomsburg and Maine were taken ahead of him. Even Mike Mayock, who has a three-ringed binder full of information on every prospect that he’s scouted in the months leading up to the draft, admitted he didn’t know who Larry Webster III was.
But there was Sam, a pass-rusher in a pass-rushing starved league, waiting for the phone to ring. The phone eventually did ring, and it was Jeff Fisher on the other line. Months of speculation, frustration, stress and anxiety came to an end.
There has been a wide range of emotions when it comes to the Rams’ decision to draft Sam, but there seems to be more positive reaction than negative, which is proof that the world has changed. Some don’t approve of Sam’s lifestyle, but as much as people want to separate themselves from him, we have undoubtedly been where he was. We’ve all taken risks. We’ve all wanted to prove ourselves to others. We’ve all doubted our own abilities and been told that we’re not talented enough to do what we love. We’ve watched our fate rest in others’ hands. We’ve all been in Sam’s shoes, waiting, hoping and praying for a call that we may never receive. And when it does, the voice on the other end may not be ready to deliver the same news that Sam received from the Rams. That’s just life. And it doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight, black or white, man or woman. We all go through experiences that shape who we are. It’s those same experiences that connect us to one another, even if we come from different backgrounds, different upbringings and, yes, have different sexual orientations.
Sam became the first openly gay man to be drafted into the NFL. His story has received abundant media coverage, and reasonably so. The media follows storylines, and there was no bigger storyline in the NFL than Sam’s drafting. The media also follows human-interest stories, because viewers can often relate to the subject, whether they want to admit it or not.
Consider Sam’s story, those 90 days and the impact of what the Rams were saying on the other end of that call.
You’ve been drafted into the National Football League, Michael Sam. You’ve made it as a football player.
And you’re accepted for exactly who you are.