NFL

Rams' Sam feeling welcome as NFL's first openly gay player

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The Canadian Press
6/24/2014 5:39:10 PM
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BEREA, Ohio -- Michael Sam was laughing with teammates as they conducted a running-back drill for kids, each youngster stiff-arming and juking his way to a touchdown celebration dance in a makeshift end zone.

Sam didn't stand out. He was just another rookie, simply one of the guys.

The NFL's first openly gay active player, Sam's first months in the league have gone just as he would have hoped.

"It's very positive, it's very fun," Sam said. "I'm excited to be playing for the Rams, I'm excited to be in the NFL."

Sam was in town with the other NFC rookies, who took part in a PLAY 60 youth football clinic with local children at the Browns' training complex, part of the league's four-day rookie symposium. The AFC rookies will begin their symposium on Wednesday.

The full orientation for the players includes presentations, workshops and speakers covering a broad range of topics that fit under four core teaching principles: NFL History, Total Wellness, Professional Experience and, yes, Workplace Conduct.

But workplace conduct -- that is, experiencing workplace respect and maintaining positive relationships, two main outlined elements of the symposium -- hasn't been a problem for Sam. Not with his teammates and not among the other rookies.

It's obvious he has the respect of those around him.

"You don't see anyone not talking to him or against him," said guard Greg Robinson, Sam's teammate in St. Louis and the second overall pick in April's draft. "They look at him as a football player."

That doesn't mean Sam has to shy away from who he is, though. In a group meeting during the symposium, he was able to share some thoughts on his own life with teammates and rookies from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"Just know someone's story before you judge them. That's pretty much what it comes down to," said Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Evans. "He's a normal guy, just like us. Just here to play football."

Sam is also quickly becoming known for his sense of humour.

"The Rams love him," Evans said. "They always joke around with him. He seems like a fun-loving guy."

And like any rookie, he is adjusting to the stark contrasts between the college and professional game.

Sam was the SEC's Co-Defensive Player Of The Year last season and was taken with the 249th overall pick in the seventh round of the draft, but he is working hard to carve out a role on a loaded Rams' defensive line, led by ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn, who was second in the NFL in sacks last season.

He has also been finding work on special teams.

"It's every fast. Everything is full speed," Sam said. "If you make a mistake, it could cost you that win in practice or that win in a game. That one mistake. So you've got to pay attention to details."

As for the details that have followed Sam around since he came out to the media in February, they haven't mattered to anyone in the league, especially those who have met him.

"He's just another guy in the locker room," Robinson said. "He's really cool once you get to know him and I feel like he has a great story behind him."

That story has resulted in a whirlwind year for Sam, without much time to reflect on the fact that he is finally an NFL player. It's a lifelong goal that made him not unlike every player on the field Tuesday, having fun with kids eager to show off their quick feet or sure hands.

"It still hasn't hit me yet, it's still like a dream," Sam said.

And as he continues to cross through uncharted territory, there is still that one vital, important thing to keep in mind. The thing that truly makes Sam's experience a worthwhile success.

"They treat me like a rookie," he said.

Michael Sam (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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