NFL prospect Michael Sam met the press today for the first time since coming out as gay, saying he wants to be known as "Michael Sam the football player, not Michael Sam the gay football player," and by several accounts he handled the media with aplomb.
Sam appeared at a press conference in Indianapolis at the NFL Scouting Combine, a multiday event at which pro teams evaluate potential draft picks. A defensive lineman for the University of Missouri, Sam came out two weeks ago in a New York Times interview.
With that past him, Sam emphasized to reporters that he wants to be judged only on his football skills. Still, most of the questions were about the ramifications of being the first openly gay player in the NFL, if indeed he is drafted by a team.
Sam, who was out to teammates at Mizzou and encountered no problems, expressed confidence that as a pro, he could handle any homophobic reactions he might run into. "I've been in locker rooms with all kinds of slurs being said," he said. "I don't think anyone means it. As time goes on, everyone will adapt."
Asked if slurs would lead to a fight, Sam was incredulous, according to NFL.com blogger Michael Shapiro. "A fight?" Sam said. "If somebody wants to call me a name, I'll have a conversation with that guy and hopefully it will lead to nothing else."
At Missouri, he noted, "Everyone could be normal around me. We would joke around, because it's a brotherhood and it's a family. We can say things to each other, and there's no harm. We don't draw blood. It's all fun and games. A good portion of the student body knew, and word did get out, but we protect one another at Mizzou, I guess."
Several reporters who attended the press conference praised Sam's demeanor. "Sam was as honest, poised and intelligent as you'd imagine," wrote Douglas Farrar on Sports Illustrated's website. "He was an ideal representative to break new ground."
Added USA Today's Jarrett Bell: "Sam was not timid, hesitant, nor did he appear to be the least bit nervous as one question after another focused on his sexual orientation."
Silver called Sam's appearance "an impressive display of maturity," noting, "With so much noise surrounding his attempt to become the NFL's first openly gay player, the former Missouri star injected a strong, steady and undeniably human voice into the fray, and the sports world was better for it."
Farrar concluded, "It's become very clear that just as Jackie Robinson was the right person to carry his cause into the sporting world for an infinite number of reasons, Michael Sam chose himself to do this, and he was absolutely correct in doing so."
Watch the press conference below.