NEW YORK (AFP) - Michael Sam, a collegiate standout who revealed his homosexuality last February, is expected to be chosen in this week's NFL Draft and could become the league's first openly gay player.
Sam, a defensive end who played at the University of Missouri, figures to be taken in the later rounds of the annual allocation process of new talent to American football clubs, which starts pn Thursday and ends on Saturday.
"I just wish you guys would just see me as Michael Sam the football player instead of Michael Sam the gay football player," Sam told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine where his strength, speed and agility were tested.
"The positive outweighs the negative. I'm kind of surprised, actually. But there's a lot of supporters. a lot of people want this. There's just a lot of support out there." Sam played down his role as a groundbreaker, saying, "A trailblazer? I just feel like Michael Sam." Nevertheless, he enters the American sports landscape in the wake of Jason Collins becoming the first openly gay player in the NBA, now with the Brooklyn Nets in the second round of the NBA playoffs against defending NBA champion Miami.
And Sam arrives on the brink of an NFL contract as the league still deals with the aftermath of the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal, a locker room taunting disgrace that involved one teammate threatening and harassing another, including homophobic insults revealed in an NFL investigation into the matter.
"If the Miami Dolphins drafted me I would be excited to be a part of that organization," Sam said. "I'm not afraid of going into that environment. I know how to handle myself.
"I've been in locker rooms where all kinds of slurs have been said and I don't think anyone means it. I think (people are) a little naive and uneducated but as time goes on everyone will adapt." Sam, who might be used as a linebacker by NFL squads, told his college teammates that he was gay before the 2013 season and found great support, and since revealing he was gay to the world he has become the subject of buttons of support saying, "Stand with Sam." San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said he thinks the NFL will provide a welcoming environment for Sam much the way the NBA, the Nets and their fans did for Collins earlier this year.
"I can't speak for every single locker room, but I truly believe, as many players have already commented on it, it will be welcoming," Harbaugh said.