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After Draft Pick, Sam Poised To Become NFL's First Openly Gay Player


Only the most extreme football geeks spend their Saturday afternoon watching the final round of the NFL draft. Well, this year, even some of the most casual fans were watching until just about the very end of the day.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: With the 249th pick of the 2014 NFL draft, the Saint Louis Rams select Michael Sam, defensive end (unintelligible)

BLOCK: And with that the first openly gay man was drafted by an NFL team. ESPN cameras were there as Michael Sam broke down in sobs and then celebrated by kissing his boyfriend. Predictably, the reaction, both supportive and ugly, was strong on social media and elsewhere. I'm joined now by Cyd Zeigler. He's editor and co-founder of Outsports, a sports news site that's dedicated to LBGT athletes and he helped advise Michael Sam on strategy when he came out in February. Cyd, welcome to the program.

CYD ZEIGLER: Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: As you were watching the NFL draft up through the seventh round and ultimately getting to 249 for the pick, were you thinking it's over, Michael Sam's just not going to get drafted?

ZEIGLER: With about 30 selections left in the seventh round, I started writing my Michael Sam didn't get drafted column and it was really painting a defeat for not just LGBT community, but the NFL. The NFL was vested in seeing Michael Sam be drafted and it would've been a real public black eye for the NFL and the 32 teams if they had used 256 selections to pass him over.

So I didn't have to publish it Saturday. That's the good news.

BLOCK: Well, Michael Sam was the southeastern conference defensive player of the year. Is it clear to you that when you think about why he wasn't picked earlier that it was because he's gay?

ZEIGLER: The draft is a very funny thing. It's an art, not a science. And every draft prospect, even the number one draft pick, Jadeveon Clowney, probably thinks he should've been drafted higher even though that's impossible.

BLOCK: He was drafted first.

ZEIGLER: For your listeners, he was drafted first, yes. There are players who should've gone in the fifth round who went undrafted. There were players who should've gone undrafted that were drafted in the fifth round. And, again, it doesn't matter. He's with an NFL team. He has an equal shot with everybody else on the Rams of making that roster. He just has to perform now.

BLOCK: I want to ask you about the reaction to those images of Michael Sam kissing his boyfriend after he was drafted. The Miami Dolphins defensive back, Don Jones, tweeted OMG, horrible, and now he's been fined. He had to apologize in a statement for what he called an inappropriate comments. Should Michael Sam expect more of the same, maybe even worse than that from others in the NFL?

ZEIGLER: You know, there are people in the NFL who are racist. There are people who are sexist. There are people who don't like Christians and don't like Muslims. And I understand that there are people who don't believe I should be able to marry my partner of 11 years and there are people who don't think that a gay man belongs in a locker room with straight men. Will he face some of this?

Sure. But he's talked about this. He's said the only thing he's worried about is the guys next to him and the guy lined up across from him. That's his job.

BLOCK: Michael Sam will be playing in the NFL if he doesn't get cut from the team, right? And you could say that equality in this would mean that Michael Sam stands just as great a chance of getting cut from the roster as anybody else, right?

ZEIGLER: Part of me says, you know, this isn't going to play any role whatsoever and that everything's going to be decided on his ability to help the team win, but I don't think the Rams became the first team ever to draft an openly gay player just to be the first team to cut an openly player. I think that probably somewhere in the back of somebody's head in the Rams organization is the idea that maybe we should find some way to keep him.

BLOCK: Cyd, have you talked to Michael Sam since he was picked?

ZEIGLER: I texted with him briefly, but he does not need me bothering him right now. He has far more important things to do. I will catch up with him later on maybe this week or next week.

BLOCK: Have you thought about what you want to say to him when you talk to him?

ZEIGLER: Probably when we talk or when we text, it will just be about how his boyfriend, Vito, doing and did he find a place to live.

BLOCK: Yeah, you can get down to the reality of day to day life.

ZEIGLER: Yeah. That's who he is. I mean, he's just another guy. He's another football player who happens to be an historic figure who has shattered stereotypes and broken the pink ceiling.

BLOCK: Well, Cyd Zeigler, thanks so much for talking with us again.

ZEIGLER: Thank you.

BLOCK: Cyd Ziegler is editor and co-founder of Outsports. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.