Michael Sam put his best face forward at the scouting combine. (Ben Liebenberg/AP)
INDIANAPOLIS -- "Good afternoon. My name is Michael Sam, and I play football for the University of Missouri. As you may know, Missouri is the 'Show Me State,' and I think I've shown you guys enough in the past couple of weeks. But I'm learning about the media, and you guys still want more, so ask your questions, and I'll answer them the best I can."
It's now very, very clear that Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam knew precisely what he was doing when he announced, before the scouting combine, that he would be the first openly gay draft prospect in NFL history. He had a concise idea what the ramifications would be, and he somehow inherently knew that he was ready to take this definitive and historic step forward. Somehow, he knew that he was the right man for that job.
And when he took the podium at the scouting combine on Saturday afternoon, Sam was as honest, poised and intelligent as you'd imagine. He was an ideal representative to break new ground.
"No, not at all," he said, when asked if he's worried about the reactions from teammates, opponents or fans. "I've been getting a lot of great positives from all kinds of fans. And when I'm on the field, I really don't focus on fans. I'm focused on my responsibilities, such as the guy across from me."
And when asked if he'd be okay if the Miami Dolphins selected him, he was clear that he -- ironically enough -- refused to discriminate. Even though the Dolphins organization has many more dings on it than Sam does ... no matter what your beliefs may be.
"If the Miami Dolphins drafted me, I would be proud to be part of that organization," he said. "But I'm not afraid of going into that environment. I know how to handle myself, I know how to communicate with my teammates, I know how to communicate with my coaches, and any other staff."
Sam told me from the podium that he did not notice any difference in the reactions of his teammates in the locker room or elsewhere, and if that's true ... well, there's still the point that his teammates then already knew him. And from all accounts, Sam is as high-character a person as you'll see on a football team. He's never been in any kind of trouble with the law, he appears to play at the top end of his potential, and the way he's gone about this process speaks very highly of his maturity and intelligence.
What happens when he gets in an NFL locker room with people who don't know him, and tend to be a bit rough on rookies under the most comfortable of circumstances? That's a story we'll have to see play out. But the amazing thing about the public perception of Sam's orientation is the number of people who knew on the Missouri campus, and what a fuss it wasn't until Sam announced it publicly.
"Everyone could be normal around me," Sam said. "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."
Sam said that he's been training for the combine -- "missing in action" as he called it -- so he's not fully aware of the media reaction. Now, he wants it to be as much about the game as it possibly can be, though he seems to understand the size of the can he opened. He said that he has no endorsements, though one imagines that will change soon in some form or fashion.
The real problem with Sam is not how he handles himself -- it's quite clear that he's able to deal with whatever he'll need to. The problem is that, when you switch on the tape, Sam appears to be a third-day talent. And when it comes to the level of hype and attention that will inevitably circle around him, Sam may be more of a risk than if he were a sure-fire first-round prospect.
But outside of that sphere, 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.