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Michael Sam, NFL's 1st openly gay draftee, signs with CFL's Montreal Alouettes


Defensive end joins CFL after being cut by Cowboys, Rams

12:51 PM ET

The Canadian Press

media duration: 1:12play video

Michael Sam signs with Alouettes


The Montreal Alouettes signed Michael Sam because they believe he can be a star rush end in the Canadian Football League. His sexuality is a non-issue, as far as general manager Jim Popp is concerned.


"Michael Sam is a very good football player, and that's the reason we signed him," Popp said of Sam, who is openly gay. "He's an outstanding pass-rusher."


Popp told CBC's Doug Gelevan that he thinks Sam's news teammates will accept him openly.


"I think he'll be embraced," Popp said. "There's always a possibility of someone having an issue, as there always is in society. If there's any challenge with any individual, then obviously we'll get him the appropriate people to help educate.


"But I think our team will be ecstatic and welcome him with no problem."


Sam, a free-agent, agreed to a two-year deal. The 25-year-old is to be introduced at a news conference in Montreal on Tuesday and report to training camp the following day.



"I am very excited and proud to join the Montreal Alouettes and want to thank team owner Robert Wetenhall, general manager Jim Popp and head coach Tom Higgins for this opportunity," Sam said Friday in a statement. "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."


The Galveston, Texas, native became a sensation when he came out before last year's NFL draft, and his NFL jerseys were an instant best-seller.


When he was picked in the seventh round by St. Louis, President Barack Obama publicly congratulated Sam and the Rams, who made him the first openly gay player to be drafted for their courage.


Congrats from the commish


CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge did the same on 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."


Not blind to Sam's celebrity status, the team immediately put his No. 94 Alouettes jersey on sale on their website for $139.95.


Sam was cut by the Rams after training camp last year. He joined the Dallas Cowboys' practice roster but was waived in October. He took another shot at landing an NFL job by attending this year's veterans combine, with no luck.


The Alouettes had Sam on their negotiation list and Popp said he was in contact with him all along. The six-foot-two 260-pound Sam finally accepted a contract after completing his commitment to Dancing With The Stars.


Popp said the key to landing him was patience.


"Each time he was let go there were discussions," he 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 feels he can follow a similar path to Cam Wake, who was converted from linebacker to rush end when he joined the B.C. Lions in 2007.


Wake had 40 sacks and was named CFL defensive player of the year in each of his two seasons with the Lions 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," said Popp.


Sam played four seasons for the University of Missouri Tigers in the NCAA, where he had 123 total tackles, 21 sacks and two interceptions.


In his last year with Missouri he helped the Tigers beat Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.




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This is big sport's news. A major sign of our open society. Montréal should be very proud of this acqusition. I hope that his performance on the field will make us all even more proud by the end of the football season.


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Oui, c'es bon pour la réputation de Mtl. beaucoup de parallèles avec Robinson dans les médias.


Now, the most important thing : will he deliver on the field? Because, you know, in sports, everything else is superfluous. And THAT'S the most "open" attitude there is to be....

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Todd: Michael Sam should feel right at home in Montreal

Jack Todd



More from Jack Todd, Special to the Montreal Gazette

Published on: May 24, 2015

Last Updated: May 24, 2015 5:00 PM EDT


After the Republic of Ireland last Friday became the first nation to legalize gay marriage through a popular vote, a Dublin social worker named Maeve O’Sullivan put the triumph into perspective.

“We are making history, but that is not what it is about,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s about supporting people and being inclusive. It is accepting people on the most basic level.”


Precisely. Ireland, known until recently for Guinness, poets and repressive Catholicism, has now became a world leader in simple tolerance and common sense. Step by step, the old bonds are breaking.


The events in Ireland are relevant because the announcement made by the Montreal Alouettes on the day of the Irish vote is also global. By signing the openly gay Michael Sam to a two-year contract, the Als have made a statement that will echo around the world — and they have reached back through the decades to form a symbolic bond with baseball’s Montreal Royals, where Jackie Robinson once broke the colour barrier.


Michael Sam is a courageous trailblazer in a world that has been homophobic and misogynist since players wore leather helmets and wouldn’t take the field against a black man.


If the Alouettes have sometimes signed a player (Chad Johnson comes to mind) because GM Jim Popp can’t resist making a splash, this time Popp displayed the right kind of courage. Sam isn’t simply an openly gay athlete and a good one — he’s also a courageous trailblazer in a world that has been homophobic and misogynist since players wore leather helmets and wouldn’t take the field against a black man.


If this is finally going to happen, after much-hyped moves by the St. Louis Rams and the Dallas Cowboys in the National Football League led nowhere, Montreal is the place where it should happen. Not only is this a famously tolerant, live-and-let-live city (as long as we’re not talking the great French-English divide) it is also the city that played host to the greatest act of integration in sports history, when Robinson took the field for the Royals.


Robinson had to face the ugliest hatred everywhere, including at times in his own clubhouse. That was never the case in Montreal. This city accepted Robinson and his wife as what they were — just people. With our vibrant, two-kilometre strip of the Gay Village in the East End, Sam should feel right at home in this city.


If there are likely to be some individuals in the Alouettes locker room who will have trouble accepting an openly gay teammate, it’s up to the coaches, management and team leaders to set the tone and to show how Sam is to be treated.


I’m confident they will. The Als have always had classy team leaders: Anthony Calvillo, Scott Flory, Bryan Chiu, Ben Cahoon, Tracy Ham, Anwar Stewart, Chip Cox, they all set a standard for behaviour on and off the field that few teams can match. Most of those players have moved on, but they set an enduring tone that will be put to the test as Sam is worked into the lineup.


This will be one of the few times when the U.S. media actually pays attention to what happens in the Canadian Football League. The first couple of games will be a circus and the scrutiny will be intense. The Als can’t have a Khalif Mitchell going off the deep end on Twitter or anywhere else.


That means education. Athletes who have spent their entire lives figuring out how to win games can be astonishingly ignorant of the world outside their milieu. Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier is still trying to figure out who Nelson Mandela plays for. In a situation like this, it’s up to the club to step in and make sure everyone is prepared.


As for Michael Sam himself, he has amply demonstrated that he is prepared. Off the field, he has said and done the right things at every step. On the field, he should be the perfect fit for the CFL, especially on a team that already has the league’s best defence. He will help the Alouettes turn up the heat on quarterbacks across the league.


Given that a team in the NFL could have given Sam a genuine opportunity, we’re fortunate to be part of this. It’s a great moment in the history of sports in this city, and I would expect fans at Percival Molson to show this can be a special place to play.


Montreal is the city that played host to the greatest act of integration in sports history, when Jackie Robinson took the field for the Royals.

Montreal is the city that played host to the greatest act of integration in sports history, when Jackie Robinson played for the Royals.


John J. Lent) / The Associated Press

I still remember interviewing Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, during the lead-up to the 50th anniversary commemoration of the day he broke the colour barrier in the major leagues, a year after shattering the minor-league barrier with the Royals. Meeting her was like shaking hands with history.


What Sam is about to do may not be on a par with Robinson’s heroism (surely he won’t be subjected to anything like the same level of abuse) but it’s up there. That’s why, having made this commitment, it won’t do for Popp to go back on it.


Sam can’t be one of those high-profile off-season signings who don’t last through the first week of camp. It’s one thing to say he has to show he can compete like anyone else, but if Popp doesn’t intend to keep Sam on the roster, he shouldn’t have signed him.


This is too important, the occasion too momentous. It’s the right time and Montreal is the right city. Having taken a huge stride in the right direction, Popp and the Alouettes need to back it up by showing the world this is not mere window-dressing.


The Als will get a 6-foot-2, 260-pound wrecking ball of a pass rusher. The world will get to turn another page in the history book. It’s about accepting people at the most basic level — as human beings, not as walking labels.


[email protected]




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