DALLAS — Michael Sam's emotional reaction to being drafted has gone viral. Now that he's on his way to St. Louis and that initial emotion has subsided, Sam is breaking new ground as the first openly gay player to be a part of an NFL locker room.
Psychiatrist Dr. Gary Malone not only understands the psychological aspects of Sam's transition, but Malone — a college swimmer at SMU in the 70s — has a special understanding.
"There were known gay athletes on the swim team; it was never a big deal," Malone said.
Sam's alpha-male experience as the SEC defensive player of the year will help him, according to Malone, because he says in any locker room, the overriding factor is: Can you help the team win?
"If he were my client, I'd recommend that he go in and be himself," Malone said. "Focus on his abilities as a player, his abilities with other people, and his leadership skills."
There have already been negative comments about Sam's draft day moment. A Miami Dolphins player has been fined and suspended. And former Texas quarterback Case McCoy tweeted his displeasure with ESPN's coverage showing Sam kissing his boyfriend.
But from a psychological standpoint, once Sam becomes a part of the Rams' locker room, Malone says such incidents may have a positive effect.
"If you've ever been on a team and there's outside forces coming after one of your teammates, there's a bonding that occurs that strengthens the team," Malone said.
And it all starts with what the good doctor says should be Sam's singular focus right now: Proving that he can play in the best football league on the planet.