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Senior Bowl questions led Missouri DE Michael Sam to tell his story now

One of the former agents for Michael Sam said the standout defensive end from Missouri wanted to announce he was gay before last month’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

Marlon Sullivan, who represented Sam briefly during January, said he and agent Jeff Sperbeck advised Sam to concentrate on football at the Senior Bowl.

Sam announced his sexual orientation Sunday during an interview with the New York Times, and he hopes to become the NFL’s first openly gay player this year.

“Our focus is more on becoming a better football player instead of focusing on the marketing aspect of it,” Sullivan said Monday. “He definitely wanted to be a voice and catalyst for this, and be the first to come out with this. … It was our advice and we told him, ‘Look, you’ve got to go to the Senior Bowl and ball out.’ 

Sam changed agents before the Senior Bowl and signed with Joe Barkett, who said Sam’s plan was to come out sometime between this month’s scouting combine and the May 8-10 draft.

But the timeline changed after they arrived in Mobile, where scouts asked Barkett about Sam’s dating history and reporters approached Sam offering to tell his story.

“We were getting bombarded with questions about whether there was a girlfriend around or whether he (would) hang out with girls. And those were very targeted questions,” Barkett said. “Reporters were approaching Mike, some of whom were from very big publications. … Once Mobile happened, it was like, ‘OK, this has to happen much sooner rather than later.’ 

Everyone from President Obama to the NFL released statements Monday commending Sam for his decision to come out.

Reaction among NFL players was mixed.

Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams tweeted: “I could care less about a man’s sexual preference! i care about winning games and being respectful in the locker room!”

But Panthers cornerback Drayton Florence, who is a free agent, mentioned on Twitter the possibility of Sam’s situation being a distraction inside the locker room.

“No comment but it can be a distraction in the locker room,” Florence tweeted. “At least he’s open with it much respect!”

Barkett said Sam left Sperbeck’s agency after just a few days in part because he wanted more individualized attention.

Sullivan, the former agent, believes Sam’s acceptance will go hand in hand with his performance.

“If he can play, he can play. He’s plays a position that’s a need. (Teams) need people that can rush the passer,” Sullivan said. “If he can play, I don’t think it’ll be a big problem.”

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson
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