(Reuters) - The St Louis Rams plan on business as usual at this summer’s training camp, but are making allowances on Tuesday when they introduce their draft picks, including Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted.
Rams general manager Les Snead expects a media crush and intense interest in University of Missouri defensive end Sam, arguably the highest profile seventh-round pick of an NFL Draft.
Following Thursday’s opening round and the second and third rounds held on Friday, St. Louis used the 249th pick of the 256-man draft to take Sam on Saturday.
“We spent yesterday talking about that,” Snead told ESPN Radio on Monday. “We’re going to have our rookies in for a press conference tomorrow. We’re going to divide those guys up, Thursday night guys, Friday night guys and then Saturday guys.
“We definitely got to be aware that Michael Sam and the social impact of the pick needs a special place. We’ll prepare for that. We’ll handle it, but at the end of the day we want this to become as normal for everybody as possible.”
Snead stressed that the choice of Sam and his prospects of making the team and becoming the first openly gay player in the National Football League depended on his evaluation as a player.
“When we talked about Michael Sam in our first meetings in December, in our draft meetings in April, we talked about him as a football player. We put him on the board as a football player, said Snead.
“We were aware of the magnitude of the decision. We knew it would be a pivot in history, and we knew the decision at that time was going to be bigger than football. But at the end of the day that was a football decision.
“We felt any time you can get a guy who can rush the passer... all that does is continue to help keep one of our strongest assets strong.”
Pass rushing has been a strength of the Rams, whose 53 sacks ranked third in the NFL, and Sam will face lively competition to make the unit although he comes in as Southeastern Conference co-defensive player of the year after registering 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for a loss last season.
The Rams general manager said Sam would be evaluated the same as all others.
“I think Jeff (head coach Fisher) answered that,” Snead said. “You have a process to pick players, and you have a process to make the team and a process to release players.
“This is a football decision and you can’t adjust any of those processes when you’re making a football decision.
“We’re charged for doing what we think is the best thing for this organization to go take on the Seattles (Super Bowl champion Seahawks), the San Frans and Arizona and get us to a place we want to be and that’s at the top of the NFC West.”
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Justin Palmer