He’ll have three former Missouri teammates with him on the Rams, including fellow draft pick E.J. Gaines. Sam will be playing for a team with many fans that rooted for him when he was in college, and supported him when he publicly came out. And in coach Jeff Fisher, he’ll be playing for someone who didn’t shy away from being part of NFL history.
“I think Michael and his entire team feel he went to what was ultimately the right stage and the right place, with the right coach and the right system,” said Howard Bragman, a public relations expert who has been working with Sam. “Any rookie already has pressure and Michael has added pressure.”
He’ll join former Missouri players T.J. Moe, a receiver, and Tim Barnes, a center, along with Gaines, when the Rams start preparing for the 2014 season. Moe and Sam were in the same recruiting class at Missouri.
“I’ll certainly do my best to make him feel right at home,” Moe said. “It’s much bigger deal to the media than it is to the players. Here it’s all about football.”
“We’re in an age of diversity. Players understand that, they know that,” Fisher said. “People will try to make it a distraction but it’s not a distraction.”
Wade Davis, who is gay and came out publicly well after his playing days, was in training camp with the Tennessee Titans twice when Fisher was their coach.
“As someone who played for Coach Fisher, Michael Sam couldn’t be going to a better place,” said Davis, who is now the executive director of the “You Can Play Project,” an advocacy group that works to take homophobia out of sports.
Davis said that while Sam is breaking new ground as an openly gay athlete entering a major male professional sports league, he won’t be the first gay athlete whose teammates knew he was gay.
Davis added the bond and intimacy that comes from being a teammate, and the hard work it requires, makes pro sports a better place than most to integrate a gay co-worker.
“I’m a firm believer that sports team, unlike any other job, are more accepting of differences because you put them aside to pursue a common goal,” David said.