Missouri Tigers defensive lineman Michael Sam (52) celebrates after sacking Florida Gators quarterback Tyler Murphy (3) (not pictured) during the second half at Faurot Field.(Photo: Denny
NEW YORK — All it took was one team, one pick.
And the NFL avoided some colossal PR damage-control when the St. Louis Rams ended the suspense and selected Michael Sam — the first openly-gay prospect in NFL history — with a seventh-round pick in the 11th hour at Radio City Music Hall.
Whew, that was close.
Sam was co-Defensive Player of the Year in the best conference in college football, but the former Missouri defensive end wasn't chosen until the 249th pick overall — seven slots before Mr. Irrelevant was crowned as the last pick in the draft.
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No doubt, history was witnessed at the NFL Draft as Mike Kensil, vice president of football operations, took to the podium and announced the pick to the sparse crowd that roared.
Minutes later, one of the huge video boards on the stage tuned in to ESPN displayed a larger-than-life image of Sam from his jubilant draft party. He embraced and kissed his boyfriend. Then they kissed again after Sam smooshed a piece of cake on his boyfriend's face similar to how newlyweds traditionally celebrate.
This was a moment that had to happen, eventually.
It was a bold step for the macho-heavy NFL, and as the draft wound down it appeared that it would not happen, that the league would have to explain itself for a major embarrassment.
Remember, sometimes it's all about image.
Had it not happened, if Rams GM Les Snead and coach Jeff Fisher not decided to draft the prospect who made his mark across the state in Columbia, Mo., about 125 miles away, it may have been a long, long time before a person came out in the manner that Sam did.
"This is a football decision," Fisher said. "We are very, very comfortable with everything about him."
Yet amid all of the back-slapping for the NFL, there's an essential question:
Why did it take so long?
Why did Sam have to wait until a team used what is generally regarded as a throwaway pick?
Sam demonstrated great courage in revealing before the NFL scouting combine in February — under the pressure of being outed — that he was openly gay.
He also made an apparent great sacrifice.
There were punters and kickers chosen before a player who led the Southeastern Conference last season with 10½ sacks and 18 tackles for loss. There were players from small schools who played against less-accomplished competition, who were chosen before Sam.
There were undersized linemen just like Sam, chosen before Sam.
Was this because Sam is gay?
It sure seems that way, no matter what we've heard about the NFL culture being progressive enough — with the league advancing a Respect in the Workplace agenda — to tolerate a player without regard to his sexual orientation.
"We're mindful of the fact that there's going to be a peak in media attention. We're OK with that," Fisher said. "We'll have a press conference, and then once we do that, we'll put it behind us."
Sam was never anybody's first-round draft pick. He's undersized for a defensive end at 6-2, 261, but it's not like he's a midget. He was stiff in the linebacker drills at the Senior Bowl and at the combine, but it's not like he can't play a lick of hard-nosed football. His 40-yard dash times (4.79 seconds at the combine, 4.7 at his pro day) is, well, about a quarter-second slower than Jadeveon Clowney's mark, but it's not like he hasn't shown good football instincts.
"It's not going to be easy," Fisher said of Sam's path. "We're too deep at defensive end. But he deserves a chance."
But just check out the history. Players who perform to the level of Sam's production against SEC competition get drafted. It's as simple as that.
Sam deserved to get drafted.
And it was better late than never.
PHOTOS: Michael Sam career highlights
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