Michael Sam made two things abundantly clear in his first media appearance since coming out as gay: He can handle the spotlight and he is ready to focus on football.
The first-team All-American defensive lineman from the University of Missouri fielded questions with ease, conviction and humor on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Sporting a small rainbow-colored pin that read "Stand With Sam," he faced what may have been the largest crowd ever for an individual player press conference at the annual NFL Combine.
"I wish you’d say, ‘Hey Michael Sam, how’s football going? How’s training going?’ I’d love for you to ask me that question," Sam responded when asked if he wished his sexual orientation wasn't a major story. "But it is what it is. I just wish you guys would see me as Michael Sam the football player, instead of Michael Sam the gay football player.”
The 24-year-old from Hitchcock, Texas, who is poised to become the first openly gay player in NFL history actually did get to discuss football, albeit briefly, during a question-and-answer session that stretched beyond 10 minutes. The SEC's 2013 co-defensive player of the year spoke about his ability to rush the passer and willingness to play either defensive end or outside linebacker.
Still, the majority of the questions asked were related to his decision to come out, his experience with teammates in college and how he might handle certain situations in an NFL locker room.
“Everyone could be normal around me,” Sam told the press when asked about the atmosphere in the Mizzou locker room. “If they wanted to we would joke around, because it’s a brotherhood and it’s a family. We can say things to each other, and there’s no harm. We don’t draw blood. It’s all fun and games.”
Asked how he might react to harassment in an NFL locker room, Sam was unworried and resolute.
"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."
WATCH: Sam Faces The Media At NFL Combine
If the NFL scouts at the Combine are as impressed with Sam's skills on the field as NFL media members were with his performance at the podium, then he won't have to worry about being passed over during the 2014 NFL Draft.
Reactions To Michael Sam Press Conference
While his sexuality was the direct or indirect focus of the majority of questions he received from the assembled media members, Sam revealed that the NFL personnel who have interviewed him have kept all their questions focused on the field.
"All football questions," he responded when asked about his meetings in Indianapolis. "They asked me about my size, they asked me if I had ever played linebacker. General questions like that."