IRVING, Texas** – Whatever off-field talking points have surrounded Michael Sam during his brief, but well-documented NFL career, they didn't faze anyone within the Cowboys' facility at Valley Ranch on Wednesday.
That's not to deny the obvious. Sam's status as the league's first openly gay player has been celebrated and debated since he revealed that fact seven months ago. It's the reason why the rookie defensive end has already sold custom-ordered jerseys during his one day with the Cowboys, and it's the reason why his signing drew throngs of reporters to the facility – more than usual, even by Dallas Cowboys standards.
"It was a little longer than I expected, but you know what, I'm here now and that's all that matters," said Sam of his four-day wait for an opportunity after being released by St. Louis.
Sam, who is undoubtedly accustomed to similar scenes by now, spent five minutes with a multitude of reporters -- outside the Cowboys' locker room to accommodate for the size of the crowd. The 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year said he's been tired of the attention since February, when he first came out publicly, but he understands it.
"This is part of the job, so I've just got to do it – I just don't care," he said.
He added: "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 – anything I can. Special teams, left end, right end, wherever. If you want me to hold the ball, I'll hold the ball – I'll do it to perfection."
Despite that fact, discussion is bound to persist about Sam as a person – on both a local and national level. Inside the confines of the locker room, however, Tony Romo turned that conversation toward the player.
"For us as football players it's all about – there's 53 guys, there's 10 guys on the practice squad -- consistently, everyone's got different politics, religion, views on things. I think what you find is, in the locker room no one cares," Romo said. "It's all about 'Can you help this football team win?' We're always bringing in people to help the football team, and if he can help us that's a bonus and we'll be lucky to have him."
Photos from Wednesday's practice at Valley Ranch.
It remains to be seen how much Sam can help the Cowboys win, as he's just a practice squad player for the time being. Having just concluded a three-sack, 11-tackle preseason in St. Louis, though, Sam said he's eager to prove what he's capable of.
"I thought I did really good to earn a spot on a team, and I'm very grateful that it was the Cowboys," he said. "I'm very grateful of Jerry Jones and the Dallas organization."
Along that same line, the focus was the same for Sam as his new quarterback – this return to his home state of Texas is about football, not his sexual orientation.
"The veteran guys, Tony Romo, the quarterback, said 'Hey, welcome. Let's get to work.' Witten came to me and said pretty much the same thing," Sam said. "It's about football, and they want to win. They think I can help them win, and that's what I'm going to do."
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Wednesday morning that the decision to sign Sam was about personnel. He also downplayed the necessity of fielding so many questions about a practice squad player, who won't be eligible to play in games barring a roster move. [embedded_ad]
"He obviously just got here this morning, so he needs to understand what we're asking him to do," Garrett said. "We have a full complement of defensive guys who have been here for a while, so like with any of the new guys, the biggest thing they have to do is understand what we're asking them to do, get into the flow of things and hopefully show us that they belong as quickly as possible."
Whether he belongs on the field is something the Cowboys will sort out in the coming days in the weeks, but whether he belongs in the locker room is something they answered firmly from the get-go.
"I think most importantly, it's an external thing. It comes from the outside," Garrett said. "That's your decision -- what question you want to ask. We're focused on football."