The addition of defensive end Michael Sam to the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad Wednesday was a perfect example of a player trying to live out his dream and a team trying to mix football and public relations.
Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted in the NFL when he was taken by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round of the 2014 draft, is the first to be a member of a practice squad after signing with the Cowboys following his release last week from the Rams.
He is excited about continuing his dream to one day become the first openly gay player to play in an NFL game.
“It feels good to be a Cowboy,” Sam said. “I thought I did really good [in the preseason] to earn a spot on a team and I’m very grateful that it was the Cowboys. I’m very grateful to [owner] Jerry Jones and the Dallas organization. I’m trying to help the Cowboys any way I can so I can earn a spot on this team and help our team win games.
“On special teams. Left end. Right end. Wherever. If they want me to hold the ball, I will hold the ball. I will do it to perfection.”
Sam’s appreciation for the opportunity was offset by a Cowboys organization seemingly trying to balance a needed football move and public relations opportunity as delicately as possible.
The Cowboys said the decision to sign Sam was strictly about football — a chance to look at a player on the developmental practice squad at an obvious position of need on a defense with a dearth of pass rushers.
“I think what you see is what it is. We want anybody that is qualified, that has an opportunity to help our team,” Jones told reporters at a news conference in Austin, where he was meeting with the Texas Lottery Commission. “They should get a chance. The other aspects of this are not an issue as far as our team is concerned. We are looking for pressure players and that’s his position.
“He’s not ready to go at all, but can he come in and learn?”
It was a rare sight: A practice squad player set up to do interviews in a separate area outside the locker room to accommodate the media crush.
While coach Jason Garrett chastised the media several times for asking too many questions about a practice squad player, he addressed Sam’s unique situation with the team to limit distractions for Sunday’s season opener against San Francisco.
“He handled it internally. I think Jason did a great job with those things, laying out the structure for the week and what’s going on,” tight end Jason Witten said. “I don’t see any of that being a distraction.”
Jones gave the team leaders a heads-up with a phone call Tuesday night, wide receiver Dez Bryant said.
And the Cowboys provided a welcoming environment for Sam.
“The veteran guys, you know, Tony Romo, the quarterback, said, ‘Hey, welcome. Let’s get to work,’ ” Sam said. “Witten came to me and said pretty much the same things so it’s just about football and they want to win.”
Said Romo, “Everyone has different politics, religion, views on things, and I think what you find in the locker room is no one cares. It’s about what you can do to help this football team win. If he can help us, it’s a bonus and we’ll be lucky to have him.”
Bryant said he plans to be there if Sam ever needs anything.
“I view him like I view any other guys in this locker room,” Bryant said. “He deserves respect. I don’t judge a book by its cover. He’s a football player. I don’t look at him no different. I expect that from everybody else in the locker room.”
Bryant called the media attention surrounding Sam outrageous.
“I look at it as if you play football then you grind it out and you’ve got a shot to be in the NFL,” Bryant said. “Don’t judge a person off of what they do or what decisions they make, if it’s not a life-or-death situation.”
Texas Tech linebacker Will Smith was dropped from the practice squad to make room for Sam.
Sam is getting that shot in a city and possibly a stadium where he played his last football game in college. He was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 at Missouri, which defeated Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium last January.
“I never thought that would happen,” a smiling Sam said. “I guess God has a plan for everything.”