In addition to being the first openly gay man drafted into the NFL, Michael Sam may be the most-talked about draft pick in recent history.
Everyone from President Obama, to the mayor of Sam's new hometown, St. Louis, to fellow NFL players were talking and tweeting about the historic moment Saturday evening when Sam was drafted as a defensive end for the St. Louis Rams. According to ABC News, Sam was referenced more than 110,000 times on Twitter in the first 40 minutes after being drafted.
“The President congratulates Michael Sam, the Rams and the NFL for taking an important step forward today in our Nation’s journey," a White House official told ABC News on Saturday evening. "From the playing field to the corporate boardroom, LGBT Americans prove everyday that you should be judged by what you do and not who you are."
After an emotional reaction to becoming the first openly gay man drafted into the NFL, Sam exuded poise in a statement about the historic appointment to ESPN on Sunday. "I've been preparing for this moment for a very long time," Sam told ESPN over the phone. "And I'm excited, I'm ready, and I am so determined to be great…This is my big announcement, this has been a whole speculation, of the first openly gay football player — but you know what? It's not about that. It's about playing football. Can Michael Sam play football? And yes I can, and the St. Louis Rams know I can. And I'm going to give everything I've got to the St. Louis Rams to help these Rams win a championship. Right now, I'm not afraid to ask the question, hey, are there going to be idiots out there who say some stupid stuff? Yeah. I'm not worried about that. I'm worried about the guy next to me, the guy in front of me. I've got to prove myself, I've got to make sure the bench knows that I'm a team player, that I love this game, and I want to show the coaches that I'm a team player and a hard-working guy."
Although Sam has been drafted, he will still have to formally make the Rams' roster before he could take the field in pre-season games starting in August. Nevertheless, Sam's new teammates, including Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins, were quick to welcome the SEC Defensive Player of 2013 into the fold:
— J.Jenkz (@JjenkzLockdown) May 10, 2014
— Johnny Hekker (@JHekker) May 11, 2014
Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, who called Sam to welcome him to the team, said he was proud to be a part of the landmark moment:
Jeff Fisher on drafting Michael Sam to espn: "In the world of diversity we live in now, I'm honored to be a part of this."
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) May 10, 2014
Former football player Wade Davis also chimed in with some perspective and support:
Jason Collins, who himself made history last year by becoming the first active NBA player to come out as gay, then later this year became the first openly gay man to play in a major American team sport when he joined the Brooklyn Nets, told ESPN that Saturday was "a great day for the NFL and for Michael and his family," according to Bleacher Report. Of course, not everyone was thrilled with Sam's history-making draft or, apparently, the kisses and hugs that Sam shared with his boyfriend, Vito Cammisano, moments after learning he'd be joining the NFL. Those embraces aired on ESPN, marking another historic first. Miami Dolphins defensive back Don Jones tweeted out a pearl-clutching "omg" after ESPN aired Sam and Cammisano's kiss, responding to a tweet asking if he was indeed referencing Sam by simply writing "horrible." The tweets were quickly removed. But according to the Miami Herald, Dolphins head coach Dennis Hickey was "disappointed in those comments," and plans to discuss the reaction with Jones. "That's not what we stand for as an organization," Hickey told the Herald. None of the negative backlash seemed to damper Sam or Cammisano's spirits, however, judging by the celebratory tweets both men have been sending since Saturday's announcement. BuzzFeed reports that Cammisano is a fellow Mizzou graduate, who was, like Sam, an out athlete at the D-1 school. Cammisano competed on the school's swim team, and has been tweeting adorable photos of himself and his boyfriend for months, including this selfie from Saturday's celebration:
The most powerful LGBT person in America also expressed her support via Twitter:
The overwhelmingly positive reaction to Sam being drafted continued into the Rams' hometown, where, coincidentally, several high-profile city leaders were at an LGBT fundraiser when Sam was drafted. Mayor Francis Slay, an outspoken LGBT ally who has three gay siblings, according to BuzzFeed, was at the statewide equality organization's annual gala when the executive director of that organization, PROMO, took the microphone and announced that the St. Louis Rams had just drafted the first "openly gay player in the NFL." The crowd erupted into cheers and applause, according to BuzzFeed.
When St. Louis mayor Slay took the microphone, he announced that his city will also be the first in the U.S. to host the Out Games in 2016. But mostly, Slay focused on the historic news that Missouri had just welcomed the first openly gay male athlete in any one of the four major American sports.
Sam will be welcomed in St. Louis, Slay told BuzzFeed. "He's a football player, and a very talented football player," Slay said. "With the Rams — everyone is part of the team, regardless of your sexual orientation, regardless of your political views, regardless of your ethnic background or race."
In a subsequent statement to BuzzFeed, Slay acknowledged that Missouri is a generally conservative state, but he noted that St. Louis, in particular, is especially gay-friendly, earning a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign's Municipal Equality Index. Indeed, Missouri's existing nondiscrimination laws do not protect LGBT people from being fired from their jobs, denied housing, or refused access to public accommodations and services, according to PROMO.