NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. -- Football fans in New Rochelle expressed joy and optimism about the drafting of Michael Sam, the NFL’s first openly gay player.
Sam, the Southeastern Conference’s co-defensive player of the year, was selected by the St. Louis Rams with the 249th pick of the draft on Saturday, May 10. His story has been heavily scrutinized and followed since he acknowledged his sexual orientation 10 days before the NFL Scouting Combine.
Although he was chosen late in the final round of the draft and will likely struggle to see much of the field during his freshman campaign, NFLShop.com reported that Sam’s number 96 jersey is flying off the shelves.
Since the draft began on Thursday, only Johnny Manziel – a veritable celebrity going into the draft before being tabbed by the Cleveland Browns with the 22nd pick – has sold more jerseys in this rookie class.
“I was happy to see him get picked; that’s a moment that’s going to go down in history,” Matt Reece said in New Rochelle. “That said, I’m already sick of seeing and reading about him everywhere. He’s still just a special team (player), if that.”
While acknowledging that she wasn’t a huge football fan, Andrea Rizzo said she was touched by Sam's story and the embrace he shared with his partner after being picked. She said that her boyfriend was watching the draft on Saturday when Sam was selected.
“It was so sweet, and he was so emotional, how can someone not be happy for him?” she asked. “I don’t know a thing about him as a football player, but he seems like a nice guy.”
Mike Young, a New Rochelle resident who coaches youth football in Yonkers, said he believes that Sam’s story is something that may be invaluable in the future.
“There’s a stigma around football that it’s this barbaric, caveman culture that is full of intolerance,” he said. “If this kid can go in there, do well and stomach whatever happens, he can be a role model for kids for a lifetime like Jackie Robinson.”