BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Michael Sam was laughing with teammates as they conducted a running-back drill for kids, each youngster stiff-arming and juking his way to a touchdown celebration dance in a makeshift end zone.
Sam didn’t stand out. He was just another rookie, simply one of the guys.
The NFL’s first openly gay active player, Sam’s first months in the league have gone just as he would have hoped.
“It’s very positive, it’s very fun,” Sam said. “I’m excited to be playing for the Rams, I’m excited to be in the NFL.”
Sam was in town with the other NFC rookies, who took part in a PLAY 60 youth football clinic with local children at the Browns’ training complex, part of the league’s four-day rookie symposium. The AFC rookies will begin their symposium on Wednesday.
The full orientation for the players includes presentations, workshops and speakers covering a broad range of topics that fit under four core teaching principles: NFL History, Total Wellness, Professional Experience and, yes, Workplace Conduct.
But workplace conduct — that is, experiencing workplace respect and maintaining positive relationships, two main outlined elements of the symposium — hasn’t been a problem for Sam. Not with his teammates and not among the other rookies.
It’s obvious he has the respect of those around him.
“You don’t see anyone not talking to him or against him,” said guard Greg Robinson, Sam’s teammate in St. Louis and the second overall pick in April’s draft. “They look at him as a football player.”
That doesn’t mean Sam has to shy away from who he is, though. In a group meeting during the symposium, he was able to share some thoughts on his own life with teammates and rookies from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“Just know someone’s story before you judge them. That’s pretty much what it comes down to,” said Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Evans. “He’s a normal guy, just like us. Just here to play football.”
Sam is also quickly becoming known for his sense of humor.
“The Rams love him,” Evans said. “They always joke around with him. He seems like a fun-loving guy.”
And like any rookie, he is adjusting to the stark contrasts between the college and professional game.
Sam was the SEC’s Co-Defensive Player Of The Year last season and was taken with the 249th overall pick in the seventh round of the draft, but he is working hard to carve out a role on a loaded Rams’ defensive line, led by ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn, who was second in the NFL in sacks last season.