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NFL prospect Sam addresses his sexuality, says 'Everyone will adapt'

| Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, 9:24 p.m.

INDIANAPOLIS — The rainbow pin attached to Michael Sam's NFL Combine credential is the most identifiable sign he's a prospect unlike any the league has seen.

For the first time, an openly gay player is entering the NFL Draft. And while Sam's football future will be decided by how well he plays — not by how adeptly he handles the kind of questions no player has heard before — he knows that being the first at anything isn't always easy.

Especially when that player already is seen as an in-between type who might not be big enough to be an NFL defensive end or fast and athletic enough to be an outside linebacker.

No, this won't be easy at all for Sam, even though he made it look easy Saturday during a news conference in which he shed delicate, personal questions as well as he did offensive linemen at Missouri, where he was the SEC co-Defensive Player of the Year.

“I wish you guys would just say, ‘Michael Sam, how's football going? How's training going?' ” Sam said. “I would love for you to ask me that question. And I just wish you guys would just see me as Michael Sam the football player instead of Michael Sam the gay football player.”

If he weren't gay, his news conference wouldn't have been the most heavily attended of the weekend, rivaling that of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o last year. But while in public-relations parlance he won the news conference with an impressive display of poise, patience, humor and insight, winning an NFL job could be far more difficult.

The 6-foot-5 18, 260-pound Sam could go as high as the third or fourth round, but there also are predictions he might last until the sixth or seventh.

All of the questions he's answering from teams at the combine are football-related. League rules bar questioning about his personal life. But there already are rumblings about the difficulties Sam could face as what would be the first openly gay player in the NFL or Major League Baseball.

Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians wonders how opposing fans will treat him. Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome wonders about the intense media scrutiny.

“He's been a good player. He's been in a locker room,” Newsome said. “It's what you, the media, what are you all going to do

with him? Once he gets in and he can rush the quarterback and get the quarterback on the ground and make tackles, he's going to be a good teammate. The biggest thing is how the media is going to deal with him. ...

“This is something that's new to the league. We all will have to adapt to it.”

Sam doesn't seem worried that his new NFL teammates might not welcome him. It was known by most on the Missouri team that he was gay, yet not a single player talked about it until he did.

“I've been in locker rooms where all kinds of slurs have been said, and I don't think anyone means it,” Sam said. “I think (it's) a little naive and uneducated, but as time goes on, everyone will adapt.”

The key, of course, will be having enough ability to play in the league. One of the criticisms of him is that, of the 11 12 sacks he had last season, nine were against Arkansas State, Vanderbilt and one of the worst Florida teams in decades.

“He's a tweener, and I think that's why people are having trouble with the evaluation,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “He's got linebacker size, but he's got physical skill set of a defensive end. He's a tough fit.”

Asked about such assessments, Sam said, “I am not a GM. I do not have control over my draft status.”

If he does make it in the NFL, won't he feel like a pioneer?

“A trailblazer?” he said. “I feel like I'm Michael Sam.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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