There’s nothing impressive about Michael Sam as a potential NFL player when looking only at his football skills. But beyond that? His social importance is a different thing, and it was hard to decide whether his place in the draft (sixth round, 249th overall) as the St. Louis Rams picked him had anything to do with it.
Sam had offers from other teams if he would have gone undrafted, but the Rams decided to go for the player who spent four seasons in Columbia, playing for the Missouri Tigers. He won the SEC’s defensive player of the year award last season, but generated headlines and buzz when he announced that he is gay, making him potentially the first openly gay player in the NFL.
Since announcing it, Sam’s draft stock has been taking hits. Not because of his sexual orientation, but because of how he performed on the field. He was moved from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 linebacker in the Senior Bowl which hurt his performance. He didn’t have a great combine and despite his numbers during his senior year, Sam doesn’t seem physically like the kind of guy who makes a huge impression on scouts.
But playing well on a college level has to count for something. Being a person teams want to have on their roster, learning that via interviews and probably other ways, is something organizations care about. Sam doesn’t want to be known or judges for being a Trailblazer. He simply wants to be referred to as a football player, nothing more.
The Rams were the first team to sign an African American player in the modern fay NFL, back in 1946. A year before Jackie Robinson made history in baseball, Kenny Washington made history in football. Jeff Fisher, the Rams’ head coach, was made aware of the history, and is proud to be associated with a franchise that stands out in such a way, although he probably cares more about finally taking this team into the playoffs.
It’s going to be hard for Sam to stand out. A defensive end who isn’t too big or fast joining a team with what might be the best defensive line in the NFL, especially after the picks they made early on in the 2014 NFL Draft. But he is making history with every small step in his journey, and although there’s a long time between now and the first snap anyone takes this season, Sam is a big closer to achieving yet another one of the goals he has set out for himself.