Michael Sam says the personal issues he had are behind him and he is ready to earn his place on the Montreal Alouettes.
Sam, the most prominent active football player to declare publicly that he is gay, had his first on-field practice with the Canadian Football League club Monday since his surprise departure two weeks into training camp.
He said at the time he had personal things to deal with. His suspension by the team was a technicality and the door was left open for him to return when he felt ready.
“Now I’m back.”
When asked twice what the issues were, he repeated “for personal matters, like I said.”
Sam’s most animated responses came when asked about a Supreme Court ruling last week that made gay marriage legal across the United States.
“That was freaking awesome. I almost cussed, by the way,” he said. “It was historical and I’m very proud and very happy to be American right now.”
Asked if the attention his own case brought to the issue may have helped, he said: “I don’t think I had anything to do with what those guys did, months and years worth of work. I’m just happy that I can get married and it’d be legal.”
He added he had no immediate marriage plans, saying “My focus is on football. That can wait.”
Sam abruptly ended the interview, which drew a much larger than usual media contingent to the Alouettes’ practice field.
Coach Tom Higgins said that despite his celebrity, Sam doesn’t want to be the focus on media attention until he has earned a spot on the playing roster.
“He does not want the limelight,” said Higgins. “It doesn’t help him with the rest of his teammates.
“He doesn’t want to be a distraction and he really feels that’s part of being a distraction. He hasn’t played one down in the CFL and he gets more attention than any of the other players. I know that bothers him. He understands the situation he’s in.”
Sam appeared to struggle in camp, where he had to adapt to a different game than is played in the U.S., with a larger field, 12 men per side and defensive players having to line up a yard off the line of the scrimmage.
His performance reportedly irked some Alouettes, who felt he was getting special treatment before earning his place on the team.
Coach Tom Higgins said he had a heart to heart talk with Sam, who also asked to speak to the players when they reported for team meetings on Sunday. The coaches left the room, but Higgins said the talk only lasted a minute and ended with applause.
He would not get into what caused Sam to leave.
“It’s nobody’s business,” said Higgins. “There are things he needed to take care of. It’s confidential. He worked some things out that he needed to settle and he comes back, to me, a much more determined athlete than he was when he was first here.”
Higgins estimated it would take three or four weeks for Sam to get into top shape and be ready to play in a game. For now, he will work on the “scout” teams, the reserves, on defence and special teams.
“He knows he has to work hard and get in shape,” said Higgins. “He’s here to practice and to earn the trust of his teammates and so far, so good.
“He’s been accepted back and the longer he’s here, the more normal it will be.”