Michael Sam talks to reporters at the NFL combine on Saturday. (Joe Robbins / Getty Images)
Indianapolis — Missouri defensive end Michael Sam knew he would have to address being gay before media at the NFL combine.
Sam wished, though, that he could have talked about football only.
“Oh, heck yeah, I wish you guys would just say, ‘Hey, Michael Sam, how’s football going?’” he said Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium. “I would love for you to (ask) me that question. But it is what it is, and I just wish you guys would see me as Michael Sam the football player instead of Michael Sam the gay football player.”
Several NFL executives and coaches, including Lions general manager Martin Mayhew, have said Sam will be judged strictly on his football skills when being considered in May’s draft, where he’s considered a mid- to late-round pick.
None of the teams that interviewed Sam at the combine as of Saturday afternoon asked about him being gay, he said.
But Sam will soon become the first openly gay athlete in any of the four major sports in the United States, so his sexual orientation will remain a topic of discussion for some time.
Sam said he would “think it’s great” if he opened the door for other athletes to come out, but doesn’t think he’s a trailblazer in any way.
“A trailblazer?” he said. “I feel like I’m Michael Sam.”
Sam wore a rainbow button that said “Stand with Sam” during his news conference, which he said a woman gave him during a Missouri basketball game against Tennessee. Although some NFL people have expressed concern about how fans will treat Sam, he said he’s received a surprising amount of support since coming out earlier this month.
Sam came out to his teammates at Missouri before the 2013 season and said his “brothers” treated him with respect.
“I’ve been in locker rooms where all kind of slurs have been said, and I don’t think anyone means it,” he said. “I think (it is) a little naïve and uneducated, but as time goes on, everyone will adapt.”
And if his NFL teammates don’t adapt?
“If someone wants to call me a name, I would have a conversation with that guy, and hopefully it won’t lead to nothing else,” Sam said.
As for the football side of things, Sam is considered a “tweener“ by many analysts -- too small to play defensive end and too big for outside linebacker. Sam was the defensive player in the year in the SEC last season after having 11.5 sacks for the 11-2 Tigers, but because he’s not a perfect positional fit, he may slip in the draft.
Sam, though, said he can play linebacker or defensive end in the NFL.
“I’m a pass rusher so if you put me in a situation to get the quarterback, I’m going to get the quarterback,” he said.
Another knock on Sam is that much of his production — nine sacks — came against lackluster opponents Arkansas State, Vanderbilt and Florida. When asked about his inconsistent statistics, Sam delivered what will likely be the most memorable line of the 2014 combine.
“Winning is hard, buddy,” he said. “Winning is hard, and there’s going to be games where I might not get a sack, but you know, throughout the games this year I was consistent. I did have some inconsistencies there, but for the most part, we as a defensive line as a whole, we did put a lot of pressure on quarterbacks.”