Michael Sam's chances of playing in the NFL got worse today as every team let the window close on a chance to pick him up, reports ESPN.
The Rams cut the out defensive end from its roster on Saturday in favor of another rookie, Ethan Westbrooks, who had been undrafted. After putting Sam on waiver, teams had 24 hours to sign him, but none did.
Now ESPN reports that Sam must focus on making a practice squad. Even there, the Rams won't say if they will take Sam.
Sam reacted to Saturday's news in a statement shared on social media, seeming hopeful about eventually making a team.
"The most worthwhile things in life rarely come easy, this is a lesson I've always known," he said. "The journey continues."
Whether Sam deserved a spot on the Rams or another NFL team is hotly debated. Outsports described the Rams' decision as solely based on which positions were available but said homophobia did "play a role" in his being passed over by the other 31 teams.
"Sam has proven he can play in the NFL," wrote the site's co-founders, Jim Buzinski and Cyd Zeigler, in a joint editorial. "Only a couple other players have more sacks this preseason than his three. In a league that places a high value on pass rushers, and continues to develop rules that help passing offenses, guys like Sam are coveted. Sacks aside, he’s played well or very well in each of his three preseason games."
Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy made headlines for saying in Juy that he wouldn't have taken Sam if he still led a team. Dungy said Sam "should have a chance to play, but I wouldn't want to deal with all of it."
Sam's preseason has obviously not been devoid of homophobia. In one of the clearest incidents, happening in the week before Sam was cut, ESPN reported on whether fellow Rams players were showering with their openly gay teammate. The network apologized afterward and some on the team publicly voiced disappointment with the coverage, which included anonymous worries by Rams players about showering together.
When Sam was drafted at number 249 of 256 players, the first uproar started because he kissed his boyfriend to celebrate while ESPN was broadcasting live. An online kiss-in started over the aggressively homophobic reaction that the kiss sparked across social media.
Almost immediately, Sam's jersey for the Rams was a top-seller, showing his huge support. Even One Direction member Harry Styles sported a jersey during a concert in St. Louis. It was ranked second among rookies in sales only to star Johnny Manziel — who Sam sacked during the preseason. And Out magazine put Sam on the cover of its sports issue.
Sam has been the target of the usual antigay voices. When the antigay Westboro Church picketed a basketball game that Sam was attending, thousands of supporters lined up outside to counter. Peter LaBarbera, president of the antigay organization Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, wrote an open letter encouraging Sam to get so-called reparative therapy and warned against his influence on black youth. A right-wing lobbyist named Jack Burkman pushed for national legislation that would ban any professional sports team from employing a player who “has openly declared himself to be a homosexual.”
But even with all of that, Rams coach Jeff Fisher told reporters yet again on Saturday, according to The New York Times, that Sam wasn't a distraction. “He’s not about drawing attention to himself," he said. "He kept his head down and worked and you can’t ask anything more out of any player for that matter.”