Meet impressive Michael Sam, football player
INDIANAPOLIS — Michael Sam, the University of Missouri pass-rush specialist, did not need an introduction anyway.
As hundreds of reporters typed away Saturday afternoon in the hushed Lucas Oil Stadium media work room, the first prospective top-level pro athlete in America to declare he is gay stepped to the podium, sans PA announcement .
And he suddenly began one of the most impressive news conferences you’ll ever witness.
Sam was funny, friendly, feisty when he had to be — but most of all confident, comfortable and courageous.
If Sam did not possess courage of the highest moral order, we’d never know about his sexual orientation. He’d have kept it carefully concealed, as gay pro athletes have been doing for generations.
Instead, he had the jam most of us can only dream about having, when he informed the world on Feb. 9 of his historically-manly-sport-non-compliant sexual orientation.
This, before even making a roster in arguably the manliest of North American pro sports, the NFL.
Facing hundreds of reporters and cameramen on Saturday, Sam was everything you were hoping he’d be. And expecting he’d be.
“My name is Michael Sam,” he said off the top. “I play football for the University of Missouri. As you may know, Missouri is the Show Me state, and you’d think I’d have shown you guys enough these last couple of weeks.
“But I’m learning with the media (that) you guys still want more. So ask your questions and I’ll answer them the best I can.”
That he did.
One of his first questions: What if the Miami Dolphins drafted him? You know, the team with the locker room that turned a blind eye last fall to the intense bullying and ridiculing of second-year offensive lineman Jonathan Martin.
“I would be excited to be a part of that organization,” Sam said. “I’m not afraid of going into that environment. I know how to handle myself. I know how to communicate with my teammates.”
He proved that at Mizzou, too. His teammates voted him a team captain last summer — even though many suspected he was gay.
And after he confirmed as much privately to his 100-odd teammates and coaches early last season, they all respected him so much that not one leaked it to social media. Or anywhere. For five months.
You know how unlikely that is in this day and age, with kids aged 18 to 22?
The whole UM campus, in fact, has embraced him now. “Stand With Sam” buttons are worn proudly all over campus. In appreciation, he wore one on Saturday.
Will NFL players stand with Sam, though? That’s what reporters have been asking league GMs, coaches and players for two weeks.
Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine summed up most opinions when he said on Saturday morning: “It’s a results business. Can Michael Sam help us win? Can he help the Cleveland Browns win? If he can, then there’s a good chance he’ll be a part of our football team.”
Sam was asked about the prospect of hearing offensive slurs in an NFL locker room. He didn’t flinch.
“I’ve been in locker rooms where all kinds of slurs have been said and I don’t think anyone means it,” Sam said. “I think (those people) a little naive and uneducated, but as time goes on everyone will adapt.”
Does Sam wish we reporters would let The Subject finally drop?
“Well, heck yeah. I wish you guys would just say, ‘Michael Sam, how’s football going? How’s training going?’ I would love for you to ask me that question.
“I just wish you guys would just see me as Michael Sam the football player, instead of Michael Sam the gay football player.”
Football questions indeed started to come. And the problem for Sam, in many analysts’ eyes, is that he’s something of a ’tweener — a bit small at 6-foot-2, 255 pounds to be a pure pass rusher, and not nimble enough to be a pass-covering linebacker in space.
Most analysts slot him as a mid- or late-round draft pick, even though he was named the defensive player of the year in college football’s premier conference, the SEC.
“I’m a pass rusher,” he said. “If you put me in a situation to get the quarterback, I’m going to get the quarterback.”
Asked how he could possibly concentrate only on football what with all the traditional-media and social-media commentary swirling like mad the past two weeks, Sam said, aptly:
“Well, since I’m not on an NFL active roster, that’s my only thought — to be on that roster.”
Asked why he had games without sacks — um, like every other pass rusher who ever has played the sport — Sam shot back straight-faced, to great laughter:
“Winning is hard, buddy.”
Then Sam revealed his nasty side, which — gay, straight or otherwise — you’d better have if you intend to play football for a living.
“If someone wants to call me a name, I will have a conversation with that guy. And hopefully it won’t lead to nothing else.”
So said Michael Sam. The football player.
My photos of Michael Sam, accompanying.
The Hit man has more than one No. 1 in mind
INDIANAPOLIS — One play — The Hit — turned Jadeveon Clowney into an instant American celebrity.
If you’ve watched any sports-highlight show in the past 14 months, you’ve seen him nearly take the head off a Michigan running back in a bowl game a year ago New Year’s Day.
With incredible burst, power, instinct.
Rumblings had had Clowney pegged as a top draft pick in 2014 to that point, but The Hit begat the consensus acceptance all last off-season that he’d be the automatic No. 1 overall selection this year.
Some even speculated he’d be wisest to sit out the 2013 season, so as not to risk injury.
He didn’t. But Clowney had an underwhelming junior season. He took plays off, critics said. Hell, even his University of South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier said as much the other day.
So when Clowney addressed reporters on Saturday afternoon at the NFL scouting combine, he had to answer that question, and a lot of others like it
“Yeah, coming into the next season after The Hit, people were talking about sitting out, all of this, all of that,” Clowney said. “A lot of people expected stuff that was impossible, like 10 sacks a game, 30 tackles-for-loss. I knew that wasn’t going to happen of course but a lot of people expected it.
“I just went out there and played my game, hard and physical football like I played my last two years there. We won, like I said, we won, got a high ranking.”
Clowney is as freakishly impactful an edge rusher as the game has seen at the college level. And maybe soon at the pro level too.
He’s 6-foot-5, weighs 266 pounds, intends to run a sub-4.5-second time in the 40-yard dash on Monday, and has long, powerful arms on top of that — 34½ inches, longer than all but four of 56 D-linemen prospects at the combine.
The Rock Hill, S.C., native said he’d love to be taken No. 1 overall by the Houston Texans. But he has a different No. 1 in mind.
“I just want to be the best — one of the greatest of all time,” said Clowney, who turned 21 just a week ago.
“Coming out of high school, I said I wanted to be one of the best in college and I think I proved that. Going to the NFL, I want to be one of the best in the NFL, go down in history as one of the best.”
MAIL-ROOM GUY: Jim Harbaugh isn’t coaching the Cleveland Browns. The self-described “proverbial guy from the mail room” is.
And even if it’s true that the Browns nearly arranged a trade last month with the San Francisco 49ers to acquire Harbaugh, as Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com reported on Friday, it isn’t bothering Pettine one bit.
“I got a phone call saying that report was about to come out, and I shot the messenger a little bit, because I asked, ‘How does that affect my tenure as head coach?’” Pettine said at his Saturday morning news conference at the NFL scouting combine.
“And then I think my next sentence had the word ‘flying,’ followed by something, and a reference to part of a rat’s body.”
You have to give Pettine credit for making such light of it. He’s acutely aware of the Browns’ rep as a cluster-(followed by something) of a franchise. As best he can, he’s trying to tune out all that negative “noise.” Hopefully he has more success at it than the Grinch.
“A big part of being an NFL head coach is dealing with the noise, dealing with the distractions. Just add that one to the list.”
The previous ear-bending incident of Browns noise occurred two weeks ago, when owner Jimmy Haslam fired the two men who hired Pettine, president Joe Banner and GM Mike Lombardi.
“I was surprised,” Pettine said. “It was a little bittersweet. I owe a lot to Mike and Joe. I wouldn’t be standing here if it wasn’t for them. In the short time with them I learned a lot.
“But the reaction from me was that it was also a clear message from Jimmy that he recognized that there were some issues, and there were some obstacles to being successful, and he wanted to clear things up.”
Pettine said he has no regrets about taking the job.
“This is a dream come true. I pinch myself every day,” he said. “There’s so much negative I think you can get overwhelmed by it, but I don’t see it that way.
“I know that I’m very blessed to be here, that my path was different, and I think that’s helped motivate me, and that I’m the proverbial guy from the mailroom. I don’t have the pedigree like some other coaches have — former players or big-college name coaches.”
HARBAUGH DENIES IT: Regarding Friday’s blockbuster news report about Harbaugh, neither the Browns nor Niners immediately denied it. But a couple hours later, 49ers owner Jed York tweeted a brief denial: “Report isn’t true.”
On Saturday morning, an angry Harbaugh himself told Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com: “The report? Ridiculous. Ridiculous. No. Ridiculous.”
Ridiculous, indeed. But untrue?
Florio of PFT stood by his report on Saturday. Chris Mortensen of ESPN added validity, saying the report is essentially true.
Regardless, with Harbaugh’s contract-extension talks with the Niners at an impasse, the drama in Santa Clara is not going to going away until the Niners and their immensely successful head coach agree this off-season on a new contract
If not, expect more of these kinds of stories. However ridiculous. Or true.
BIG AND FAST: On Saturday morning Auburn offensive tackle Greg ran unofficial 40-yard dash times of 4.88 and 4.84 seconds. His official time was adjusted to 4.92.
Michigan’s Taylor Lewan — a 6-foot-7, 309-pounder — officially ran the fastest time of all the O-linemen: 4.87.
As sickly swift as that is, two O-linemen last year ran faster: Terron Armstead of Arkansas Pine Bluff in 4.71 and Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson in 4.72.
OZZIE ON RAY RICE: Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome said he hasn’t spoken yet to Ray Rice, who last week allegedly knocked out his fiancee and dragged her out of an Atlantic City casino elevator. “It’s very concerning,” Newsome said. “Up until we get all of the facts we will allow the (legal) process to run its course.
“(Head coach) John (Harbaugh) said it best yesterday. We will let the facts determine what the consequences will be.”
Newsome said he has watched the video that went viral of Rice dragging his fiancée out of the elevator, “just like everybody else did. It doesn’t look good, but I will reserve all of my comments until I get a chance to take with Ray.”
The NFL would “take its position before we have to take any,” Newsome said.
TO SLUR WITH PENALTY?: The competition committee has met here three times since Monday, Newsome said. Reports said one initiative being mulled is adding a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty if any player is caught saying a racial epithet such as the N-word, or a slur involving gender. “With any rule that we put into play, we have to look at it from A to Z and find out what are the unintended consequences, as well as the consequences,” Newsome said. The committee meets next weekend in Naples, Fla., to further discussion potential new rules.
This Bo knows football … and Quebec cold
INDIANAPOLIS — Boseko (Bo) Lokombo is the only Canadian of 335 prospective NFLers here at the scouting combine.
A linebacker from the University of Oregon, Lokombo spent the first six years of his life in The Congo before his family immigrated to Canada.
After a year in Sherbrooke, Que., the Lokombos relocated to Abbotsford, B.C.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Quebec, but it’s COOOOLD,” Lokombo told me on Saturday. “Going from Africa to Quebec is a crazy process, and a big culture shock. Eventually we just decided to move out west.”
Last year the CFL Scouting Bureau ranked Lokombo its No. 1 overall prospect. But when teams learned he intended to stay at Oregon to finish his journalism degree, his CFL draft stock dropped.
The B.C. Lions picked him 21st overall last May.
“I’m athletic, probably the most athletic linebacker in this year’s (NFL) draft,” said Lokombo, rated 26th at his position by NFLdraftscout.com. “And a guy who’s a hard worker and patient and a cerebral player who’s just going to get better and better.”