St. Louis Rams defensive lineman Michael Sam addresses the press after practice at Rams Park in St. Louis in this file photo taken July 29, 2014. Photo by Scott Rovak, USA TODAY Sports/Reuters.
NEW YORK - Michael Sam, the first openly gay player selected in the National Football League Draft, was released Saturday by the St. Louis Rams in final roster cuts before the season begins.
All NFL teams had to reach the 53-man NFL limit by Saturday ahead of next week's season openers and the 24-year-old defensive end's fate came down to the Rams having too much talent on the defensive line.
"It was not a difficult decision," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "This was a football decision.
"I was pulling for Mike. I really was. I don't say that very often. Mike came in here and did everything we asked him to do. He got a chance to play a lot, the second most snaps on the defensive line, and was productive."
Sam, selected in the seventh round of May's NFL Draft, was among the last four players cut from the Rams' lineup, beaten for the final spot by another rookie, Ethan Westbrooks.
"Mike fit in very, very well," Fisher said. "He was fun to be around. He was a good teammate. It was no issue there. I was pulling for Mike. It just didn't work out."
A college star at the University of Missouri barely an hours' drive from St. Louis, Sam made 11 tackles and three quarterback sacks in a solid performance over four pre-season games.
"He plays hard all the time," Fisher said of Sam. "He has learned to use his hands better. He has gotten better in the pass rush. The plays he made were effort plays. I think he's got skills to fit in some place."
Other NFL teams have 24 hours to claim Sam's rights or he will become a free agent and available to sign with any club.
He could also become part of a team's 10-man practice squad, players who only train with the team that could potentially one day replace injured players on the active roster.
- No distractions with Sam -
Fisher said any club interested in Sam should not be concerned about potential distractions because he is gay, saying there were none during his time with the Rams.
"There was no distraction," Fisher said. "There were a lot of things said right after we drafted him that this was a historical moment for the league and everything. We're proud to be part of that. It was a great experience, but there were no issues. No issues in the team meeting room, on the field, any place. There was a lot more made of it than there should have been."
Extra attention outside the team included an ESPN mention of showering habits involving Sam, a report Fisher blasted as unfair, saying Sam's sexual orientation and historic status would not offer any challenges to an NFL club.
"There will be no challenges, no challenges whatsoever," Fisher said. "He's not about drawing attention to himself. He kept his head down and he worked. You can't ask anything more out of any player. There's no challenge with respect to Mike Sam and the second opportunity that lies ahead."
Should that chance come, Sam would follow in the history-making footsteps of football's Robbie Rogers and the NBA's Jason Collins.
Collins made history six months ago as the first openly gay man in one of the four major American sports leagues when he played for the Brooklyn Nets.
Rogers became the first openly gay man to play in a US sports league when he took the field for the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer in May of last year.
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