On the verge of becoming the first openly gay athlete to play in the Canadian Football League, Michael Sam pledged his support to Montreal's LGBT community but insisted he's "just here to play football" at Tuesday's news conference introducing him as the newest member of the Alouettes.
Sam is the first openly gay player to be drafted by an National Football League team. The St. Louis Rams selected the pass rusher in the seventh round in 2014. He appeared in four pre-season games before the team released him, then had a short stint on the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad that ended in October without his playing a regular-season down in the NFL.
Montreal announced last Friday that it had signed the 25-year-old Texan to a two-year deal, and he'll report to training camp when it begins Wednesday.
"I'm so excited to get back on the football field and get back to work," Sam said.
Alouettes general manager Jim Popp said the "trailblazing athlete," who was a U.S. collegiate star at Missouri, can make an impact in the pros.
"We think he has a chance to be an outstanding pass rusher in the CFL," Popp said.
Sam agreed that his skills will translate to the Canadian game.
"My size fits as a pass-rusher," said the 6-foot-2, 260-pound player. "I led [the Rams] in pre-season in sacks and that was in the NFL, so I'm a pass-rusher. Doesn't matter where I'm at."
Sam is still better known for his openness about his sexual orientation than for his work on the field at the pro level, but he insisted he's intent on establishing himself as a player, not just a symbol of social change.
"I've set in motion a lot of stuff," he said. "I have a responsibility to handle myself the right way and carry myself the right way so future athletes who may be straight, gay, bisexual, whatever, they can be inspired just by what I'm doing."
Sam brushed off a reporter's comparison between himself and Jackie Robinson, who played for a minor-league team in Montreal before breaking the colour barrier in Major League Baseball.
"I'm just here to play football," Sam said. "I'm not here to try to do anything historic."
He did, though, have a message for Montreal's LGBT community.
"If you're afraid of what your family and friends may think ... come to me. I'll be your family."