I was actually still pretty mad after we found out the Rams were going to take him. The NFL is the least user-friendly league in sports, milking you dry and taking advantage of your fandom instead of building it. Michael Sam's draft experience suggested that it isn't particularly friendly to human beings either. There were still 248 picks that preceded the Rams' selection. All 32 teams found excuses. Even the Rams passed on him multiple times. Some picked defensive ends from Marist, Illinois State, and Concordia. Some said he didn't fit their system because he was a 3-4 OLB, and they run a 4-3. Some said he didn't fit their system because he was a 4-3 DE, and they run a 3-4. Some said they had concerns because his big games came against lesser teams. (And they were still bigger than the biggest games posted by the defensive ends from Marist, Illinois State, and Concordia, I'm guessing.) They called him stiff and slow. They made excuse after reprehensible excuse.
Everyone's worst fears about how Michael Sam would be viewed turned out to be true, and that didn't change when the Rams finally did the deed. I more-or-less gave up on the NFL a long time ago when I realized I didn't really enjoy the product and hated the way the league treated its fans, and the last three days made me feel pretty good about that sub-conscious decision.
But then the footage came out.
This is Michael Sam getting the news #StandwithSam pic.twitter.com/fxis3qGJhc— Rock M Nation (@rockmnation) May 10, 2014
Professional football player. RT @PeteBlackburn: pic.twitter.com/7RpLEBdq6M— Bill Connelly (@SBN_BillC) May 10, 2014
My own views on the NFL don't matter in the slightest. It was Michael Sam's dream to make the league, to get drafted, and that dream came true. The Rams made that happen when 31 teams were too chicken to give it a try. I applaud them for that. This was an important moment, not only for Michael Sam but for so many others thinking about coming out and wondering how they will be treated. The way things unfolded didn't reflect all that well for the NFL, but the moment itself -- the phone call, the reaction, the kiss -- was captured on national television. It was a breakthrough moment for sports, whether the sport in question wanted it or not.
From a pure numbers standpoint, however, the Rams were just about the worst team that could have drafted him.
Not an ideal fit for M Sam. Rams aint moving Long or Quinn off the edge on 3rd downs. Sam best as a pass rusher but 2 small to move inside— Ben Muth (@FO_wordofmuth) May 10, 2014
If he doesn't make it in St Louis doesn't mean he isn't an NFL caliber player. May bounce around before he finds the right fit.— Ben Muth (@FO_wordofmuth) May 10, 2014
Sam will have a hell of a time making the #Rams defensive line. And I defend to the death his right to try.— Michael Tanier (@MikeTanier) May 10, 2014
The St. Louis Rams have ironman Chris Long, who has missed time with injury in just one season and has started 16 games in each of the last four (and has logged 50.5 sacks in six years). They have Robert Quinn, who has made 29.5 sacks in the last two years. They have William Hayes, who has 12 sacks in the last two years as a backup. They have Alex Carrington, who was a part-time starter at Buffalo the last three years. They have pass-rush specialists, and they have decent depth. Plus, they drafted Aaron Donald, who will probably be one of the best pass-rushing defensive tackles in the league the moment he dons a Rams jersey.
The Rams still have plenty of pressing issues, but defensive end is not one of them. It's going to be really hard for Michael Sam to make this team. Not impossible, but hard.
The Rams passed the "Not too chicken to draft him" test, however, when 31 other teams could not. For today, that's enough. And really, the success of Michael Sam's career will be judged at the end of it, not the beginning. It really might take him a few years to develop, to find his niche. After all, while he had his moments in 2010-12, he didn't take off at Mizzou until 2013, his fifth year on campus.
The NFL doesn't have 85-man rosters. They don't redshirt, and they don't feature many fourth-stringers. It really might take him a while to find the right fit. But thanks to the Rams, his career now has an official start. He'll learn from Jeff Fisher, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (gulp), and line coach Mike Waufle. He'll learn from Jake Long and Robert Quinn. He'll battle Carrington and Hayes for a second-string spot. And if he fails, the lessons he's learned will help him at the next stop in his career. And now that he's been picked, whatever circus atmosphere some teams almost certainly feared will dissipate over time, he'll probably get treated more fairly along the way. He will learn, develop, and grow, and for the next few seasons, every chance he gets will bring him closer to sticking with a team.
Michael Sam has already blazed his trail. And now he gets the chance for the NFL to treat him like a regular NFL player. Yesterday's poignance is gone, and now his life as a professional football player begins.