INDIANAPOLIS --- Michael Sam strode to the podium, and the media room at the NFL Scouting Combine erupted with the sound of chairs being pushed back, hundreds of reporters rising at once. It was like when they put out the tray of free sandwiches, only this time everybody was grabbing for recorders and cameras, instead of plates.
This was the first mass interview since the defensive end from Missouri announced he was gay, a few weeks back. Reporters had lots of questions.
Sam said he isn't worried about reaction from opposing fans when he takes the field.
"When I'm on the field, I really don't focus on fans. I just focus on my responsibility," Sam said.
What about the kind of atmosphere, the homophobic talk, revealed in the Ted Wells report on the Dolphins' bullying scandal?
"If the Miami Dolphins drafted me, I would be excited to be part of that organization," Sam said. "But I'm not afraid about going into that enviornment. I know how to handle myself. I know how to communicate with my teammates, I know how to communicate with coaches and other staff."
Sam said he has spent the time since his coming-out to the nation preparing for the combine, hasn't gotten any endorsements, or done appearances. He said so far in interviews with teams, no one has asked him about being gay.
Sam was wearing a "Stand with Sam" button on his combine warmup, which he said was given to him by "a very kind lady." The "Stand with Sam" movement began in response to the antigay Westboro Baptist Church announcing plans to protest against him at a Missouri basketball game. "Stand with Sam" volunteers walled off the protesters, keeping them well away from the doors.
"I love my fans. I love Mizzou. What they did this past weekend was just amazing," Sam said. "I wanted to cry about it, but..." he shurugged, triggering laughter.
Sam said his sexual orientation was known to most of the student body after he came out to teammates in August. It didn't make the media because "we protect each other at Mizzou, apparently."
What about slurs he might hear in the locker room?
"I've been in locker rooms where all kinds of slurs have been said ... I don't think anyone means it," he said. "I think (players can be) a little naive and uneducated, but as time goes on, everyone will adapt."
Asked if there'd been any joking from teammates after he came out to them, Sam said that was allowed, but "we never draw blood."
Does he feel like a trailblazer?
"I feel like Michael Sam."
Sam said if someone called him a name, his reaction would be to "have a conversation with that guy."
Sam also was asked some football questions. He seemed confident in his ability to rush the passer, despite less-than-ideal size. Asked why his sack numbers seemed to vary greatly, Sam told a questioner, "winning is hard, buddy."