*Hmmm, one look at the photo above and you know the NFL is never going to be the same.
And that photo may also explain why it took nearly the entire draft for Michael Sam to be picked. But once he was, history was made.
Sam officially become the league’s first openly gay player when the St. Louis Rams used the 249th pick in the seventh round to select him. That means Sam will stay in the state where he played college football as a standout at the University of Missouri.
Sam, the 2013 defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference, came out as gay to his teammates before last season. He disclosed his sexual orientation in media interviews this year. At the NFL scouting combine in February, he drew the largest media contingent that anyone there could recall.
“Thank you to the St. Louis Rams and the whole city of St. Louis. I’m using every ounce of this to achieve greatness!!” Sam tweeted after he was selected, including a picture of himself wearing a Rams cap and a pink polo shirt.
Even though he was productive in college, Sam was generally regarded by NFL evaluators as a “tweener,” someone too small to be an effective defensive end, and too slow to drop into pass coverage — at least at an elite level. He was widely projected to be a late-round draft pick or free agent, despite his impressive credentials.
Sam granted almost no media interviews in the days before the draft, and he watched Rounds 4 to 7 on Saturday in San Diego with friends, family and his agent. There was a TV camera capturing the scene when Sam was selected. Like many players before him, Sam cried as he got the news over the phone.
“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.”
Rams Coach Jeff Fisher said during an interview with ESPN: “In the world of diversity we live in now, I’m honored to be a part of this.”
Before the first round Thursday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in an ESPN interview he was pulling for Sam to be selected at some point in the three-day draft.
“We like to say the NFL is the ultimate meritocracy,” Goodell said. “I have great respect for Michael, his courage, his decision to come public, and I’m optimistic he can get that opportunity, and hopefully he can play at this level.”
In a powerful scene broadcast by ESPN after his selection was announced, Sam could be seen overcome with emotion as he received a phone call from Rams coach Jeff Fisher. As he celebrated the historic moment, Sam shared an embrace and kiss with his boyfriend.