NEW YORK – The franchise that was first to design a helmet and sign an African-American player added one more notch to its trendsetting ways on Saturday afternoon.
The St. Louis Rams selected Hitchcock native Michael Sam with the 249th pick of the National Football League draft, bringing the first openly gay player into its family.
The selection was the culmination of a nearly three-month journey for the former Missouri standout, who came out in early February.
“Thank you to the St. Louis Rams & the whole city of St. Louis. I’m using every ounce of this to achieve greatness,” Sam tweeted.
Sam, the 2013 Southeastern Conference Co-Defensive Player of the Year, will begin his professional career 125 miles away from the University of Missouri, where he played his college ball.
The reaction in Hitchcock was one of joy, as one of Sam’s longtime friends expressed the sentiments of the city.
“He’s going to be just fine. Going to the Rams was the most perfect scenario for him,” Derrick Guidry, who has known the Sam family for years, said. “Michael has the mentality to handle what is coming at him. He’s always just wanted to play football, and now it’s up to him to make his dream become a reality.”
ESPN caught the emotional moment when Sam received the phone call from Rams head coach Jeff Fisher. Sam was openly weeping before he embraced his boyfriend.
Much of the talk during Saturday’s final four rounds centered on whether Sam would be drafted. His draft stock, which was originally considered in the middle rounds, began to drop after shaky showings at both the NFL Combine and at Missouri’s Pro Day.
As the draft began to wind down, the options for Sam also dimmed, before the Rams came knocking.
“It’s a great day for Michael and his family,” New Jersey Nets center Jason Collins, who is gay, said before the Nets’ Game 3 contest against the Miami Heat. “It takes more and more people to come forward and show that we are human beings.”
In Dallas, Michael Sam Sr. said he had no doubt that someone would draft his son.
“St. Louis is a good organization,” said the elder Sam, who immediately sent a text of congratulations to his son. “He’s already got a fan base that knows who he is and has already embraced him for who he is.
“He’ll make the team with his special teams work, but I’ll tell you what: Once he grabs ahold of the defensive schemes, he’s going to be tough to handle. He has always been that way, and will continue to be.”
Saturday also wrapped up a stretch that saw Sam receive his first endorsement deal when he signed with Visa on Thursday. He was also informed that he would be the recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award from ESPN during its annual ESPYs show in July.
Sam was the second Galveston County player selected in the draft. Ball High’s Mike Evans, who played at Texas A&M, was chosen by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the seventh overall pick.