Pioneering Sam has already made impact on the league

Tue Sep 2, 2014 5:12pm EDT
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By Mark Lamport-Stokes

(Reuters) - Michael Sam has already made a significant impact on the National Football League, even though his long cherished dream to become the league's first openly gay player may never materialize.

Though the 24-year-old defensive end failed to make the St. Louis Rams' final 53-man roster for the 2014 regular season on Saturday and cleared waivers the following day to remain on the outside looking in, he achieved one of his primary goals.

Ever since he ended his 2013 senior season as a University of Missouri standout by being awarded co-defensive player of the year honors in the Southeastern Conference, he has yearned to be judged purely on his merits as a football player.

And that is exactly what he got during his brief spell with the Rams during the preseason where his impressive work ethic and burning desire to simply be "one of the team" made a lasting impact with the entire coaching staff and his fellow players.

"Mike came in here and did everything we asked him to do," Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said after the defensive end was cut amid 21 other roster moves before the NFL deadline.

"He got a chance to play a lot of snaps, he had the second-most snaps on the defensive line to Ethan Westbrooks, and was productive. Mike played well. He has the ability to play someplace. It's gotta be the right place, it's gotta be a fit.

"As someone told me years ago, the difference between a good player and an average player in this league is just snaps, it's reps. He's a much better player now than he was when he got here."

The 6-feet-2 (1.88 m), 260-pound (118 kg) Sam became the first openly gay player to be selected in an NFL Draft when he was taken in the seventh round by the Rams in May, a significant moment for the league.   Continued...

Jul 29, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams defensive lineman Michael Sam (96) signs autographs after practice at Rams Park. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports