- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 30, 2014

Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted by an National Football League team, was released by St. Louis Rams on Saturday, though the defensive lineman said he is not through with the NFL.

As a seventh-round draft pick trying to make a team with a sound defensive front seven and enough pass rushers, Mr. Sam was facing an uphill battle and some NFL observers were surprised he made it as far as he did — to the last round of player cuts after the final exhibition game, by which point the Rams and all other NFL teams had to trim their rosters down to 53 players. His making it past the previous round of Rams rosters cuts was itself a mild surprise and the subject of an ESPN article.

“I want to thank the entire Rams organization and the city of St. Louis for giving me this tremendous opportunity and allowing me to show I can play at this level. I look forward to continuing to build on the progress I made here toward a long and successful career,” Mr. Sam wrote on his verified Twitter account @MichaelSamNFL.

“The most worthwhile things in life rarely come easy, this is a lesson I’ve always known. The journey continues,” he said.

Mr. Sam can still sign with another NFL team as a free agent and his preseason play was impressive enough that sports-channel commentators this week who were skeptical he’d make the Rams were still confident that he’d catch on with a team in greater need of a pass rusher, either right away or later in the season as players start getting knocked out by injuries and new players can be signed.

The Rams also could sign him for their practice squad once he clears waivers.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher, at a news conference announcing the Rams‘ final roster cuts, wished Mr. Sam well and said his presence in the locker room as the hyper-macho league’s first openly gay player was not a disruption and would not be for any other team.

“There’s no challenge with respect to Mike Sam,” Mr. Fisher said. “He’s not about drawing attention to himself. He kept his head down and worked and you can’t ask anything more out of any player for that matter.”

Even from the day Mr. Sam announced his homosexuality, scouts had been divided about his NFL prospects despite his having been the Southeastern Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year his senior season.

On that very Sunday, Sports Illustrated reported that scouts weren’t terribly high on him, noting that he isn’t big by the standards of NFL linemen.

“Others see Sam, who is 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds, as an undersized defensive end without a true position in the NFL. Of his 11.5 sacks, nine came in three games against what one scout called ‘garbage competition’ — Vanderbilt, Arkansas State and Florida. ‘His numbers are inflated,’ a scout said,” the magazine reported.

Mr. Sam indeed became a media celebrity of the sort seventh-round draft picks never are — his jersey at one point was the league’s second-top-selling player shirt among rookies, the Oprah Winfrey Network was making a documentary about him, and President Obama congratulated him upon being drafted.

In addition, his being cut by the Rams was the subject of articles Saturday evening at outlets that don’t typically cover sports, such as Talking Points Memo, NBCNews.com and Forbes.

The Rams took him near the end of the draft — he was 249th of the 256 players chosen — and they were not a team in urgent need of defensive-line / outside linebacker help, making them perhaps not the right team for a borderline player like Mr. Sam to break in.

Nine defensive linemen made the Rams roster and Mr. Sam apparently lost out on the last slot to Ethan Westbrooks, an undrafted rookie.

Gay commentators also took the roster cut in stride, noting that Mr. Sam had provided the NFL preseason with some of its funniest moments when the Rams played the Cleveland Browns and their hyped rookie, Heisman-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel.

“He performed well; he sacked ‘Johnny Football’ twice and made fun of him,” joked LZ Granderson, an ESPN commentator who is himself gay. “The larger LGBT community … a lot of us were prepared. We know football, we knew the circumstances.”

“This is a football issue and not about his sexual orientation,” added tennis legend Billie Jean King.



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