Michael Sam was picked by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round of the NFL draft Saturday, becoming the first openly gay player drafted by a pro football team.
"Thank you to the St. Louis Rams and the whole city of St. Louis. I'm using every ounce of this to achieve greatness!!" Sam tweeted moments after he was picked, with a picture of himself wearing a Rams cap and a pink polo shirt.
The impact of Sam's selection goes far beyond football. At a time when gay marriage is gaining acceptance among Americans, Sam's entry into the NFL is a huge step toward the integration of gay men into professional team sports. Pro sports have in many ways lagged behind the rest of society in acceptance.
Sam played at Missouri, and came out as gay in media interviews earlier this year. His team and coaches knew about his sexuality prior to the public statement, but kept his secret during his final college season. He went on to have the best season of his career: He was the Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year.
The pick came after several rounds of suspense. The first round of the day came and went without Sam being picked. Then the second, and the third, and finally, the day was down to just a handful of picks.
When Mike Kensil, the NFL's vice president of game operations, walked to the podium at Radio City Music Hall in the draft's final minutes to announce the Rams' second-to-last pick, the crowd got a sense something was up. Very few of the last day picks were announced at the podium. Twitter lit up with suggestions the Rams were about to make news.
When Kensil said: "The St. Louis Rams select ... Michael Sam..." fans gave a hearty cheer, chanting "Yes! Yes! Yes!" and "Michael Sam!"
Sam will start his professional career not far from the place where he played his college ball, with three former Missouri teammates.
The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Sam was considered a mid-to-late round pick, far from a sure thing to be drafted. He played defensive end in college, but he's short for that position in the NFL and slower than most outside linebackers, the position he'll need to transition to at the professional level.
He was taken with the 249th overall pick out of 256. Players from Marist, Maine and McGill University in Canada were selected before Sam.
"In the world of diversity we live in now, I'm honored to be a part of this," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said during an interview on ESPN.
Publicly, most people in and related to the NFL have been supportive of Sam.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said Sam would be welcome in the league and judged solely on his ability to play. A few wondered whether teams would be reluctant to draft Sam because of all the media attention that would come with it.
Fair or not, the NFL was looking at a possible public relations hit if Sam was not drafted. Had he been passed over, Sam would likely have been signed as a free agent and given a chance to make a team in training camp, but to many it would have looked as if he was being rejected.
The Associated Press