INDIANAPOLIS — Michael Sam says he hasn't heard questions from NFL teams about his sexual orientation and its potential impact on his pro career.
The former Missouri star heard plenty from reporters Saturday afternoon at the scouting combine, though — and Sam hopes that's where the questions will end.
"Oh, heck yeah, I wish you guys were just saying, 'Hey, Michael Sam, how's football going? How's training going?' I would love if you'd ask me that question," he said, in his first public appearance since making his landmark announcement Feb. 9.
"But it is what it is. I just wish you guys would see me as Michael Sam the football player instead of Michael Sam the gay football player."
An All-America selection as a senior with the Tigers in 2013, Sam told his college teammates he was gay before last season. Now he hopes to become the NFL's first openly gay player, though he said he doesn't feel like a trailblazer — "I feel like I'm Michael Sam."
Sam said the question he has heard from teams have revolved around his position and his "tweener" size at 6-2 and 255 pounds, which are part of the reason he may have to wait until the late rounds to hear his name called during May's draft.
"I want to play whoever picks me up as a defensive end or an outside linebacker to rush that passer," said Sam, who had 11½ sacks last season and 20 in his four-year career. "That's what I do best."
Wearing a "Stand With Sam" pin and laughing several times during the loose, roughly 13-minute media conference, Sam touched on several other angles to his story, including:
Why he came out when he did: "I think I did it on my time, on my terms. It's out there now, so it doesn't really matter."The instant fame brought by his announcement: "I've been missing in action. So, I really haven't been paying attention to the media. … I have no endorsements. I am just training for the combine and my pro day."Potential harassment in road stadiums: "When I'm on the field, I really don't focus on fans. I just focus on my responsibility, which is the guy right across from me."The culture of NFL locker rooms: "I'm not afraid about going into that environment. I know how to handle myself. I know how to communicate with my teammates. I know how to communicate with coaches and other staff, whoever I need to communicate with."The vulgar language sometimes used by players: "I've been in locker rooms where all kinds of slurs have been said, and I don't think anyone means it. I think it's a little naïve and uneducated, but as time goes on, everyone will adapt."Whether his college teammates could joke with him about being gay: "Everyone could be normal around me if they wanted to. We joke around — that's because it's a brotherhood, it's a family. So, we can say things to each other. No harm. We don't draw blood."What will happen if one of his new teammates crosses the line: "If someone wants to call me a name, I'll have a conversation with that guy and hopefully it won't lead to nothing else."
All week, coaches and general managers have repeated some version of the same phrase when asked about Sam: he'll be evaluated like any other prospect and welcome in the locker room.
"I applaud what he did," Browns coach Mike Pettine said Saturday. "In the NFL, it's a results business. Can Michael Sam help the Cleveland Browns win? If he can, then there's a good chance he'll be a part of our football team."
The SEC's defensive player of the year in 2013, Sam has a chance to answer some questions about his athletic ability when defensive ends and linebackers perform drills here Monday.
"I think Michael Sam is an effective outside pass rusher," Tennessee Titans general manager Ruston Webster said. "He has some strength at the point. But his main thing is getting up the field and rushing the passer and putting pressure on the quarterback."
Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said the locker room won't be an issue: "It's what you, the media, what are you all going to do with him?"
Perhaps then it was a good sign the last question to Sam from a reporter Saturday focused not on the announcement or the locker room, but the perception he was inconsistent as a pass rusher.
Replied Sam: "Winning is hard, buddy."