Michael Sam, the first openly-gay football player drafted by the National Football League, was cut from the St. Louis Rams on Saturday afternoon. The news comes as a major disappointment to Sam's many fans (according to ESPN, his was the seventh-best selling jersey on the league's online store from April 1 through July 31), who had hoped he would break the league's significant cultural barrier to become the first openly-gay player.
The announcement that the final roster did not include Sam had nothing to do with his sexuality, said coach Jeff Fisher, but the complexities of an already very competitive process and the particular needs of the Rams team. Fisher was explicit in stating that Sam was never a distraction to the team and complimented his "effort plays," skills and "his motor."
Sam's preseason stats included 11 tackles and three sacks, as well as a team-leading six tackles in Thursday's final preseason game. But in the end, it was Sam's chief rival, undrafted rookie Ethan Westbrooks, who beat out Sam for a spot on the league-mandated 53-man roster. "Ethan was making a lot of plays every time I looked," Fisher remarked in a press conference after Thursday's game.
"He kept his head down and worked and you can't ask anything more out of any player for that matter," Fisher said, insisting more than once that "there's no challenge with respect to Mike Sam."
Rob Simmelkjaer of NBC Sports told msnbc that such praise will likely serve Sam in the next phase of his pursuit of a football career, saying there is a "really good chance that we'll see Michael Sam land on an official NFL roster sometime in the next year or so." Another option for Sam could be to stay with the Rams and find a spot on their practice team.
Michael Sam was picked by the Rams in the seventh round of last May's draft, following a celebrated senior year at University of Missouri where he earned the SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year award and a consensus All-American honor.
Fisher pointed out in Saturday's press conference that a 6th round draft pick and four 7th round picks did not make the cut this season, but has made clear of Michael Sam, "I believe he can play in this league, yes."
Michael Sam, who first announced publicly that he is gay in February, shared his gratitude with fans on Twitter after the news broke.