Michael Sam, the first out gay player drafted into the NFL, has signed with the Dallas Cowboys.
Sam was brought to Dallas for a physical on Wednesday and then assigned to the Cowboys’ practice squad.
“This is about football. We evaluated him as a football player,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett told reporters during a press conference Wednesday. “We just want to give him a chance to come in and see if he can help our football team.”
After a couple of follow-up questions about Sam, Garrett said: “We need to be careful about spending too much time on a practice squad player.”
Sam, who met with the media earlier in the afternoon, thanked the Cowboys for giving him an opportunity in a series of tweets.
Sam was cut by the St. Louis Rams, the team that drafted him, on Saturday afternoon and was passed over by the remaining 31 NFL teams over the weekend. He became a free agent when no team signed him to its practice squad.
That came as a surprise after a preseason where Sam finished among team leaders in sacks, tackles, and snaps. It was largely assumed Sam would be scooped up by another team or signed to a practice squad.
When he wasn’t, that raised questions around the league — especially among media members — about whether homophobia in NFL front offices was keeping him off of a roster.
“I think his being gay has hurt him with some teams,” Outsports.com co-founder Cyd Zeigler told BuzzFeed on Tuesday.
Consider that, as Schefter pointed out, of the 12 players in the NFL who had 2.5 or more sacks in the preseason, 10 earned roster spots with their team. One was assigned to a practice squad.
The other one was Sam.
But Wade Davis, a former NFL player and executive director for the You Can Play Project, an advocacy organization working to eradicate homophobia in professional sports, cautioned against making Sam’s struggle to find a roster spot a referendum on homophobia in the NFL.
“Literally 24 hours ago, the NFL was homophobic. Including the Dallas Cowboys,” Davis said. “But only 11 teams signed defensive ends to their practice squad. So it wasn’t like teams were going out there signing all of these other defensive ends and not Michael Sam. There’s just a lot of information that we don’t have.”
Dallas would seem a good fit for Sam, who grew up a Cowboys fan in the Houston area and has family in the Dallas area.
The Cowboys released two of their best players in the offseason, defensive ends DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher. As a result, no Cowboys defensive end on the active roster other than George Selvie started a single game in the NFL last year.
“You can make a pretty strong case that, unless Anthony Spencer is available and healthy, (Sam) would be the best end rusher for the Dallas Cowboys,” said Stephen White, a former Cowboys defensive end and NFL blogger for SB Nation.
Sam will get his start in the NFL on a practice squad and not the team’s active roster. It could be some time before he actually plays in a game.
And, White said, because practice squad members aren’t made available for media like players on the active roster, there’s little chance that he’ll be a distraction to the team.
“When you’re on the practice squad, nobody sees you, nobody talks to you. You don’t even travel to away games,” White said. “There’s zero chance of a media circus.”
Davis remained hopeful that the media would adjust to covering Sam as a football player rather than an oddity because of his sexual orientation.
“I want them to treat Michael like a subject and not an object,” he said. “The media has an opportunity to shift how we talk about gay athletes.”
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