It took until the final moments of the final day of the 2014 draft, but Michael Sam has become the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team. Moments after he got the call from the St. Louis Rams, who took Sam with the draft’s 249th overall pick, the Missouri star also became the first NFL draftee to celebrate by kissing his same-sex partner on national television. Later, the network showed Sam and his partner—who Outsports’ Cyd Zeigler identifies by his first name, Vito—shoving a celebratory slice of cake in each other’s faces and kissing again.* You can watch the initial kiss in the video below.
In the hour since ESPN aired this amazing, emotional footage, it has not shown the kisses again. Instead, the Worldwide Leader has opted to replay a shorter clip of Sam crying and embracing his partner. ESPN.com's online video, billed on the site's front page as "Sam gets call from Rams," has also been bowdlerized, cutting out both of the kisses.
For most of the day, it didn’t seem like Sam would have any reason to rejoice. The SEC’s defensive player of the year went undrafted through the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds. As the draft neared its conclusion, ESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr., Todd McShay, and Bill Polian argued that the NFL's lack of interest in Sam had nothing to do with his sexual orientation. They explained, using an impressive 1000 clichés per minute, that Sam was a “tweener” who didn’t have a natural position in the NFL, and that he would have a good chance to make a roster as an undrafted free agent because of his great attitude and strong "motor."
The Rams, though, finally called Sam with the draft’s eighth-to-last selection. He will now compete for a spot on one of the league’s strongest defensive lines, one featuring star defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn, the latter of whom has already tweeted his support for Sam. Sam will be mentored in St. Louis by Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who was suspended in 2012 (and reinstated a year later) due to his role in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal. Among the lessons that Williams will likely impart to his rookie defender: “Kill the head, the body will die.”
In a post-draft interview with ESPN’s Suzy Kolber, St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher noted that it was appropriate that the Rams had drafted Sam. The Rams franchise, then in Los Angeles, made history by signing Kenny Washington in 1946, making him the first black player to ink a contract with an NFL team in the league’s modern era.
Thank you to the St. Louis Rams and the whole city of St. Louis. I'm using every once of this to achieve greatness!! pic.twitter.com/QESdOJVzsw--Michael Sam (@MikeSamFootball) May 10, 2014
*Correction, May 10, 2014: This post originally misspelled Cyd Zeigler's last name.