MONTREAL (AP) — Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted in the NFL, signed a two-year contract Friday with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football league.
General manager Jim Popp considered Sam’s sexuality a nonissue.
“Michael Sam is a very good football player, and that’s the reason we signed him,” Popp said. “He’s an outstanding pass rusher.”
Sam came out before last year’s NFL draft. He was selected in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams and cut in training camp. The Dallas Cowboys signed him to their practice squad but released him in October. Sam then made another unsuccessful attempt at an NFL job at this year’s veterans combine.
“I cannot wait to put on the pads, get back on the field and work hard each and every day with my teammates to bring a Grey Cup to the great fans here in Montreal,” Sam said in a statement.
The 25-year-old defensive end will be introduced at a news conference Tuesday in Montreal and report to training camp the following day.
Sam starred at Missouri in college, earning SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2013. After he came out, his NFL jersey was an instant best-seller and President Barack Obama publicly congratulated Sam and the Rams.
CFL Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge did the same Friday.
“Congratulations to the Montreal Alouettes on the signing of Michael Sam,” Orridge said in a statement. “Our players come to us from different places, different walks of life and ultimately they take different paths to get to our fields.
“Today is another indication of how open and progressive the CFL is — consistent with our rich and storied history of great football tradition.”
Aware of Sam’s celebrity, the team immediately put his No. 94 Alouettes jersey on sale on their website for $139.95.
The Alouettes had Sam on their negotiation list, and Popp said he was in contact with him all along. The 6-foot-2, 260-pound player finally accepted a contract after completing his commitment to “Dancing With The Stars.”
“Each time he was let go, there were discussions,” Popp said. “He wanted to give it one last shot at the combine.”
Popp said Sam was considered a “tweener” by NFL clubs, not quite the right body type to be a defensive end or an outside linebacker for that league.
But he may fit perfectly in the CFL. Popp believes Sam can follow a path similar to that of Cam Wake, who was converted from linebacker to end when he joined the B.C. Lions in 2007. Wake was the CFL Defensive Player of the Year in each of his two seasons before signing with the Miami Dolphins, where he has had a successful NFL career.
“If he proves (NFL) people wrong it would be great for us, and I think he can do it,” Popp said.