MARYLAND HEIGHTS, MO (KTVI) – The St. Louis Rams drafting of Michael Sam, the NFL’s first openly gay player, continues to dominate headlines. The Rams rookie will meet with media for the first time in St. Louis on Tuesday afternoon, and interview requests have already come in from as far away as Australia.
Monday, broadcaster Joe Buck’s golf tournament for St. Louis Children’s Hospital drew lots of extra attention as Rams players and officials taking part were questioned about the team’s groundbreaking draft pick.
Chris Long, a defensive end who is both a team captain and leader, says he sees Michael Sam’s future with the team determined by football, and football alone.
“That’s his sexuality. That’s his personal life,” Long said. “That has nothing to do with what happens in the locker room or on the football field, and that’s all we’re concerned with as NFL football players.
As for the social ramifications, Long says it needs to be kept in perspective.
“It so happens it’s a historic moment, but I’ve said this before: he’s not the first gay player in the NFL and he’s not gonna be the last one, and that doesn’t really matter to an NFL player. NFL players are all about what kind of a teammate you are, how you treat people in the locker room and how you perform on the field. Are you productive?”
The team’s Chief Operating Officer, Kevin Demoff, says the reality of just how big this was set in the instant they selected Sam.
“You certainly recognize it the moment that you hang up the phone and make the pick and you see it on ESPN and you see it on the NFL Network and you see the tweets. It’s not often we make a pick where President Obama is commenting.”
Like Long, Demoff sees football, not Sam’s sexuality, as the dominant factor of what is getting ready to play out.
“You’re naïve if you don’t understand you’re making a statement as well as an organization. We’re thrilled with the support we’ve gotten. Obviously there are going to be people who are not thrilled with the pick. You balance that along with any other social viewpoint, but our goal is Michael Sam has to help us win football games. He’s here as a football player, not as a social experiment.”
LGBT groups do see an opportunity with Sam. PROMO has been trying to pass a law in Missouri for years that would prevent sexual preference from being used as a reason to fire someone or deny them access to housing. They believe Sam can be an asset in educating people about discrimination against gays.
“Any time we can get more information out to the general population, the general public, this is a great thing,” Executive Director A.J. Bockelman said. “For example we’ve put a lot of things out through social media, just welcoming Michael Sam to the Rams, St. Louis. I think it is a groundbreaking opportunity.”
For now, the media spotlight on Michael Sam will be blinding. Post-Dispatch Rams writer Jim Thomas says the team has gotten interview requests from as far away as Australia. But he says all this attention could be short-lived if Sam doesn’t perform on the field.
“It was based largely on a football decision but I think Jeff Fisher is comfortable enough in his own skin, if he doesn’t think he’s good enough to make the team…if he struggles out here in OTA’s and training camp and preseason games he won’t make the team.”