Former Mizzou TE criticizes Michael Sam
Eric Waters, a former Missouri tight end and Michael Sam’s roommate last season, says the latter has changed since he announced his sexual orientation publicly.
Waters, an undrafted free agent on the Pittsburgh Steelers, caught eight passes for Missouri in 2013 and considered Sam a good friend while at the university. But Waters thinks the attention and fame of being the first openly-gay player on an NFL roster has changed his former teammate.
“He is a nice guy, but I will say the truth: A little bit of him has changed,” Waters said, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. It is not really my situation to speculate at this point, but he is not the same Michael Sam anymore.
“I was watching the NFL Network the other day and I think it was Marshall Faulk who said that he keeps referring to himself in the third person as Michael Sam this, Michael Sam that. That’s not the same guy we knew back when we were living together. He is not the same fun-loving, joking guy that really didn’t care about stuff like publicity.”
Waters has been an outspoken guy. In the same interview, he implied that the coaching staff at Missouri didn’t give him enough opportunities to showcase his abilities, hurting his chance to get drafted.
But he’s also the same guy who chastised teammates, calling them hypocrites in so many words on Twitter for publicly supporting Sam while talking negative behind the defensive end’s back. Sam revealed he is gay to his Missouri teammates before the 2013 season.
“I don’t care about your sexual preference or if you are black or white or freaking purple,” Waters said, ironically using the politically incorrect “preference.”
“As long as you can play football, that’s all that matters. We had a common denominator: We were brought to the same university because we had the ability to play football. That’s all that matters.”
Sam has gotten daily attention in St. Louis and around the league despite his status as a seventh-round pick. On a team with such a deep group of defensive ends, Sam is listed as a third-unit player and needs to leverage his preseason game opportunities if he wants to make the roster.
Waters admitted he hasn’t talked to Sam since the two left Missouri, and though he was close to Sam as recently as a few months ago, he’s speaking as somewhat of an outsider now. It seems misplaced to speak out against his former teammate and friend, but Waters clearly believes what he said.
He wouldn’t be the first to question Sam’s motivation or timing. It comes as no surprise, though, if the attention has changed Sam in some way. There have been plenty of detractors, especially privately, but despite the ground-breaking nature of his sexual orientation in the world of professional sports, Sam hasn’t faced anything akin to, say, Jackie Robinson when he broke baseball’s color barrier. But all the media demands, the responsibility he’s faced as an ambassador of sorts for the gay community and the transition from college to the NFL are a strong cocktail that shouldn’t be diminished. It’s hard to blame Sam if he’s overwhelmed or even if he feels a little pleased with himself.
It does not appear that Sam has made any public response to Waters’ comments.
The Rams, fronted by coach Jeff Fisher, have steadfastly insisted that Sam’s merit will be determined by his ability to contribute as a football player and nothing else. Whether or not Sam has “changed,” his ability to impact the NFL’s locker room culture hinges in large part on his ability to, you know, be employed in the NFL.
Even if Sam doesn’t make an initial roster, which he could, expect him to earn a practice squad slot initially. He’ll have his chance to make an NFL roster and play in a regular-season game if he’s got enough ability.