St. Louis Rams rookie defensive end Michael Sam is ready to focus on football amid the hoopla about him being the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL team.
"Rams defensive end Michael Sam gained international fame as the first openly gay player drafted by a National Football League team.
"He would much rather be known as an exceptional football player.
"'I'm determined to be great,' he said Tuesday afternoon at Rams Park during his introductory news conference. 'I'm going to train hard and try to make this team.'
"He accepts his standing as a role model, but he prefers to define himself as an athlete.
"'I will always support equality, period,' Sam said. But my job is to focus on football and help this team win a championship.'
"That will be no simple task, as the media crush at Rams Park demonstrated. Reporters came from all over the country to chronicle his first days on the job.
"Sam faces more media scrutiny than any seventh-round pick in league history."
ESPN's Nick Wagoner also covered Sam's introductory news conference on May 13.
"Throughout the course of the nearly 20-minute-question-and-answer session, Sam made it clear his focus is on moving past the bright lights and cameras and on to making the 53-man roster.
"'Right now I am just looking forward to continuing on my dream,' Sam said. 'And if it inspires other people, then, hey, I'm with you. Anyone that's not okay with that, if someone disowns you, hey, be a part of my family, I'll welcome you.'
"The Rams set out to use Tuesday's news conference as the first step in allowing Sam to continue that dream without having to worry about the intense media spotlight that has followed him since his landmark announcement on ESPN in February.
"First, they wanted to address their decision to draft Sam. After introducing each of their 10 other draft picks, coach Jeff Fisher offered some background on the steps that ultimately led to choosing Sam."
In a separate ESPN update, Wagoner says the scrutiny Sam will be under will go on.
"Make no mistake, the attention will continue. It will ebb and flow with every landmark event along the way, be it an organized team activity, a minicamp, a training camp practice or a preseason game.
"But for now, Sam is over the first hurdle and can now fully focus on the many more in front of him as he attempts to make the roster.
"Asked if he took even a moment to appreciate the gravity of being the first openly gay player drafted, Sam didn't hesitate. In his mind, the sooner the focus turns to football, the sooner the attention will taper.
"'I'm already focused on playing and trying to make the team,' Sam said. 'Eventually it will. But I understand that right now you guys want to make a big deal out of it. When this is over, I can start doing that as fast as possible.'"
For his part, Rams head coach Jeff Fisher sees something special in Sam, per Wagoner.
"Anyone who watched him play sees special traits. We'll have the capability provided that he's able to get from Point A, which is right now, to Point B through camp.
"We'll have the capability and potential to package him up and get him in defensive packages. We'll stress the importance of his contributions to special teams and all those types of things, so the work is just getting started.
"We're looking forward to being part of this journey."