By The Associated Press
BEREA, Ohio — Michael Sam was laughing with teammates during a running-back drill for kids, each youngster stiff-arming and juking his way to a touchdown celebration dance in a makeshift end zone.
On Tuesday, the St. Louis Rams’ defensive end and the league’s first openly gay active player was just another rookie at the NFL’s four-day symposium.
“It’s very positive, it’s very fun,” Sam said. “I’m excited to be playing for the Rams, I’m excited to be in the NFL.”
Sam was in town with the other NFC rookies, taking part in a PLAY 60 youth football clinic with local children at the Browns’ training complex.
The full orientation for the players includes presentations and workshops covering a range of topics under four core teaching principles: NFL History, Total Wellness, Professional Experience and Workplace Conduct.
But workplace conduct — that is, experiencing workplace respect and maintaining positive relationships, two main outlined elements — hasn’t been a problem for Sam so far. Not with his teammates and not among the other rookies.
“You don’t see anyone not talking to him or against him,” said guard Greg Robinson, Sam’s teammate in St. Louis and the second overall pick in April’s draft. “They look at him as a football player.”
That doesn’t mean Sam has to shy away from who he is, though. In a meeting during the symposium, he shared some thoughts on his own life with teammates and rookies from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“Just know someone’s story before you judge them. That’s pretty much what it comes down to,” said Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Evans. “He’s a normal guy, just like us. Just here to play football.”
Sam is also quickly becoming known for his sense of humor.
“The Rams love him,” Evans said. “They always joke around with him. He seems like a fun-loving guy.”
And like any rookie, he is adjusting to the stark contrasts between the college and professional game.
The SEC’s Co-Defensive Player Of The Year last season was taken with the 249th overall pick in the seventh round of the draft. But Sam is working hard to carve out a role on a loaded Rams’ defensive line, led by ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn, who was second in the NFL in sacks last season.
He’s also finding work on special teams.
“It’s every fast. Everything is full speed,” Sam said. “If you make a mistake, it could cost you that win in practice or that win in a game. That one mistake. So you’ve got to pay attention to details.”
As for the details that have followed Sam since he came out to the media in February, they haven’t mattered to most in the league, especially those who have met him.
“He’s just another guy in the locker room,” Robinson said. “He’s really cool once you get to know him, and I feel like he has a great story behind him.”
That story has resulted in a whirlwind year for Sam, without much time to reflect on becoming an NFL player. It’s been a lifelong goal for Sam and others on the field, who were having fun with kids eager to show off their quick feet or sure hands.
“It still hasn’t hit me yet, it’s still like a dream,” Sam said.
As he makes his way, one thing sticks out in in his mind.
“They treat me like a rookie,” he said.