Sam’s release: Strictly a football move?

Pat Koster, Reporter

Michael Sam, the first openly gay athlete to be drafted into the NFL, was released by the St. Louis Rams late last month.

The defensive end from Galveston, Texas was cut on August 30th in favor of undrafted rookie Ethan Westbrooks. While some news outlets claimed the cut was inevitable due to the media attention that signing Sam had brought, both the Rams and Sam didn’t seem to make a huge deal about it.

Sam was released based on his performance and not because of his sexual orientation, or the attention it brought to the Rams.

“I will tell you this: I was pulling for Mike. I really was, and I don’t say that very often,” Rams head coach Jeff Fisher told ESPN. “Mike came in here and did everything we asked him to do.”

The release of Sam is important; not only for the NFL, but for gay athletes and the LGBT community. The move has demonstrated, at a professional level, that an openly gay athlete was given a fair opportunity to earn a spot on the team.

It wasn’t that Sam performed poorly on the field; he was effective many times during the preseason. But based on his performance, the performances of other Rams players, and team needs, the Rams did not feel that he could help their team any further. The professionalism and mutual respect by both Sam and the St. Louis Rams surrounding the situation shows that the decision wasn’t an easy one.

Michael Sam was humbled by his experience with St. Louis, thanking them via Twitter.

“I want to thank the entire Rams organization and the city of St. Louis for giving me this tremendous opportunity and allowing me to show I can play at this level. I look forward to continuing to build on the progress I made here toward a long and successful career.”

That isn’t to say media attention or being openly gay didn’t have any effect on his release. It is possible that the Rams released Sam because he attracted too much attention, but it is unlikely.

“There’s no challenge with respect to Mike Sam. He’s not about drawing attention to himself,” Fisher told ESPN. “He kept his head down and worked and you can’t ask anything more out of any player for that matter.”

Being released from the Rams may have been a big move for Sam, but it certainly wasn’t career-ending. After a great preseason, the defensive end has been signed to the Dallas Cowboys practice squad.

After being signed by the Cowboys, Sam tweeted:

“As a kid growing up in Texas I always loved the Dallas Cowboys, so to join this incredible organization is really a dream come true. I want to thank the Jones family, the entire Cowboys organization, and the city of Dallas for giving me this opportunity. I look forward to putting my helmet and pads on every day to work my hardest to help bring a sixth Super Bowl Championship to Dallas!!”

And maybe that will be the case. Michael Sam is an outstanding person on and off the field, and only time will tell if his hard work pays off with Dallas. Hopefully Sam and the Cowboys win a sixth Super Bowl.

But, of course, not before the Bills win their first.

Patrick Koster can be reached at [email protected].