Sporting Firsts: What does Sam's draft mean for USA?
This week, Michael Sam became the first ever openly-gay player to be drafted to the NFL – the American National Football League, eliciting a positive reaction from pro-gay rights groups worldwide.
Sam was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year – one of college football's most competitive conferences – during his time playing for the Missouri Tigers.
The NFL draft, where each team picks the best players from college football, has seven rounds and the poorest performing team from the previous season picks first, with the best team picking last.
Many draft experts had predicted that Sam would be drafted in the first three rounds, a prediction that did not come true for Sam in the end. He was drafted to the St Louis Rams in the seventh and final round, the 249th player to be picked overall.
A tweet by Jon Heyman, CBS pundit, noted the elephant in the room. "Good job by rams picking Michael Sam in NFL Draft. But why does best defensive player in best league wait to round 7?"
A Bleacher Report journalist tweeted that "several NFL sources say one team removed Michael Sam from its board fearing he'd be a
distraction. They wouldn't identify the team."
When Sam received the news that he was to become a player in the NFL, part of his live, broadcasted reaction was to kiss his boyfriend Vito Cammisano, prompting a large response on social media. Media outlets such as Hollywood Life went with the angle "NFL Star makes out with Vito", while a Guardian headline read "Michael Sam's big gay kiss will never be forgotten - that was the whole point".
A former Ole Miss basketball player tweeted that the broadcast was #SICKENING before claiming the tweet was a psychology experi–ment, while player Don Jones has been fined by the Miami Dolphins over "disappointing" tweets. Jones has since released an apology, saying "I regret that these tweets took away from his draft moment".
The St Louis Rams tweeted Sam's only statement. "I knew I was going to get picked somewhere. Every team that passed me, I was thinking how I was going to sink their quarterback."
Speaking to ESPN, Sam's new coach Jeff Fisher said "We have tremendous respect for inclusion ... in the end, we took Michael Sam, the football player."
Out and proud
Michael Sam has become the first openly-gay man to be drafted to the NFL, but despite being one of the strongest contenders, he was chosen only in the final round proving the NFL still has a long way to go on the road to equality.
First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday's Irish Independent