First openly gay CFL player, Michael Sam joins ELF’s Barcelona Dragons as coach

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Jimmy Golen

The first openly gay player to play in the Canadian Football League is taking his talents to Europe.

Former Montreal Alouettes defensive end Michael Sam has joined the Barcelona Dragons of the European League of Football and will serve as the team’s assistant defensive line coach in their upcoming season. The 32-year-old retired from football after a tumultuous few months in the CFL.

Sam signed a two-year contract with Montreal following an appearance on Dancing with the Stars and was expected to contribute on the team’s defensive line. However, the Texas native left training camp ahead of the first preseason game due to personal reasons and was placed on the suspended list.

He returned to the team ahead of the regular season, dressing for the first and only time in the Alouettess sixth game of the season against the Ottawa Redblacks. He was held off the stat sheet and would leave the team a week later, citing mental health struggles.

Prior to coming out, Sam had an illustrious career at the the University of Missouri, racking up 123 tackles, including 36 for loss, 21 sacks, six forced fumbles and two interceptions. As a senior in 2013, Sam recorded 11.5 quarterback sacks on his way to be named co-Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year, alongside Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley. He was a unanimous All-American selection that season.

Sam came out publicly in a now infamous interview with ESPN prior to the 2014 NFL Draft and was ultimately selected 249th overall in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams. In four exhibition games, Sam recorded 11 tackles and three sacks, but was released by the team as part of their final cuts. His NFL career ended after a brief stint on the Dallas Cowboys practice squad.

The Barcelona Dragons are entering their second season in the European League of Football, which bills itself as the first professional-style American football on the continent since the collapse of NFL Europe.

The team was coached last season by legendary CFL head coach and general manager Adam Rita, but his services were not retained for a second year. Sam will serve on the staff of former NFL assistant coach Andrew Weidinger.

“I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to join the Barcelona Dragons,” Sam said in a statement. “I want to thank GM Bart Iaccarino, HC Andrew Weidinger and the Barcelona team. I look forward to contributing in any way I can, as well as helping the DL to be the best pass rushers in the European League of Football.”

The Dragons will kickoff their season on June 5 against the Stuttgart Surge.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.