EARTH CITY — The St. Louis Rams made former Missouri defensive end and current rookie Michael Sam available to the general media Friday for the first time since a post-draft news conference.
After several general questions about the first week of practice, some reporters were blunt in asking how Sam was being treated by the team based on his sexual preference.
Sam, clearly annoyed, diverted his eyes from the couple dozen reporters huddled around him and responded.
"They respect me as a human being and as a football player," said Sam, who publicly came out as gay in February.
As a football player, Sam faces an uphill battle to make the team. Seventh-round selections have no guarantees when coming into the league, and many rookies must carve out a place on special teams to secure a roster spot. Sam, who worked on the punt team toward the end of Friday’s practice, said he is trying to stay in shape in order to contribute on special teams.
"I've played some special teams at Mizzou," Sam said. “I've been getting back into the motion."
Organized training activities, or OTAs, are all about getting players back into motion. Rookies must learn new playbooks and prioritize football above all else. NFL veterans use the time to ease back into their routines.
Big hits are usually avoided. By rule, players cannot wear pads during OTAs.
Rams players were divided by position during the week. Defensive players wore white jerseys. Offensive players wore navy ones. Most wore navy shorts, as well.
But a few players, including Sam, went against the grain in their shorts selection. He and about a dozen other players wore gold shorts.
"Just personal preference," Rams media relations coordinator Julia Faron said of the shorts. "Coach Fisher likes to treat everyone the same. Rookies, vets — they all help us win."
Yes, even his choice of wardrobe can be overanalyzed these days. The first openly gay player in the NFL, Sam's sexual orientation has brought added attention to Rams Park. His teammates aren't quite sure why.
"I'm not sure why we categorize the team, and then Michael Sam and how Michael Sam is going to fit into the team," Rams receiver and former Missouri star T.J. Moe said Thursday. "Newsflash: He is part of the team, you know? Michael Sam is on the team."
Sam later commented on the speed of the St. Louis defensive line. Sam said the older guys on the line had been showing him the ropes.
"Chris (Long) is a great mentor," Sam said. "So is Robert Quinn and all those guys."
Long, a seventh-year veteran, seemed to take a liking to Sam during the first week of practice. Sam conducted his sprints and warm-ups right next to Long and could be found talking often to the defensive end between drills.
While Long was talking to the media Friday, Sam shouted to his new teammate from across the practice field.
"Michael!" Long replied. "How are you?"
Sam continued on his way. Long, amused, brought his attention back to the group of reporters.
Supervising editor is Mark Selig.