The St. Louis Rams on Aug. 30 released gay defensive end Michael Sam during the franchise’s final cuts before the start of the regular season, but the Dallas Cowboys on Wednesday signed him to join their practice team.
“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,” said Sam on his Twitter page. “I look forward to continuing to build on the progress I made here toward a long and successful career.”
Sam, a former University of Missouri defensive end, came out in February during a series of interviews with the New York Times and ESPN
He became the first openly gay man drafted into the National Football League in May.
Rams Coach Jeff Fisher noted to reporters after his team picked Sam during the seventh round that the franchise in 1946 drafted the first African American into the NFL.
“This is a second historic moment in the history of this franchise,” said Fisher. “I’m honored to be part of it. Michael’s a good football player.”
The Associated Press reported that Fisher met with Sam on Aug. 31.
“It was a football decision and it was no different than any other decision that we make,” Fisher told reporters during a press conference after his team released Sam, as the Los Angeles Times reported. “It was a football decision back in May to draft Mike. And once again, it’s been about football.”
The Dallas Morning News and other media outlets indicate the Dallas Cowboys are poised to add Sam to the team’s practice squad this week after he undergoes a physical. Speculation remains as to whether homophobia played any role in the fact the gay defensive end did not immediately sign with any other NFL franchise after the Rams cut him.
LGBT rights advocates and sports commentators last week criticized ESPN after reporter Josina Anderson discussed whether Sam showered with his then-Rams teammates during the preseason.
Eric Wood, an offensive lineman with the Buffalo Bills, on Aug. 31 suggested the sports network was to blame for the fact that no NFL team immediately added Sam to its roster after the Rams released him.
“No one wants the distraction,” Wood tweeted to former NFL player and analyst Ross Tucker.
David McFarland, founder of United for Equality in Sports and Entertainment, a group that advocates for LGBT inclusion in the two arenas, told the Washington Blade that the Rams and Fisher “handled one of the most critically watched player transactions in the NFL this year” in a “professional manner.”
“I don’t believe homophobia played a role in the Rams’ decision to release Michael Sam,” said McFarland. “However, there is no doubt that homophobia is alive and well in the NFL.”
McFarland further stressed he feels anti-LGBT attitudes remain “entrenched” in sports.
“While Michael Sam has secured a spot in history and displayed himself as a true athlete who is on his way in the NFL, I would encourage us to look beyond the individual,” he told the Blade. “There’s the important and historical story about Michael Sam, but as a whole this is an issue that is facing our athletes at all levels of sport across America.”