NEW YORK -- Michael Sam was picked by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round of the NFL draft Saturday, becoming the first openly gay player drafted by a pro football team. Sam played at Missouri, and came out as gay in media interviews earlier this year. His team and coaches knew his secret and kept it for his final college season. He went on to have the best season of his career: He was the Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year. "Thank you to the St. Louis Rams and the whole city of St. Louis. Im using every once of this to achieve greatness!!" Sam tweeted with a frenzied typo moments after he was picked, including a picture of himself wearing a Rams cap and a pink polo shirt. The pick came after several rounds of suspense. The first round of the day came and went, no Sam. Then the second, and the third, and finally, the day was down to just a handful of picks. When Mike Kensil, the NFLs vice-president of game operations, walked to the podium at Radio City Music Hall in the drafts final minutes to announce the Rams second-to-last pick, the crowd got a sense something was up. Very few of the last day picks were announced at the podium. Twitter lit up with suggestions the Rams were about to make news. When Kensil said: "The St. Louis Rams select ... Michael Sam..." the fans gave a hearty cheer, chanting "Yes! Yes! Yes!" and "Michael Sam!" Sam was in San Diego watching with friends and family at the home of his agent, Joe Barkett of Empire Athletes. ESPN and the NFL Network had cameras there and showed Sams reaction. Sam was on the phone bending over, with his boyfriend hugging him and rubbing his left bicep. When Sam got off the phone, the tears started. He gave his boyfriend a big kiss and a long hug as he cried and his eyes reddened. After, they shared cake -- and another kiss. Sam will start his professional career not far from the place where he played his college ball, with three former Missouri teammates. The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Sam was considered a mid-to-late round pick, far from a sure thing to be drafted. He played defensive end in college, but hes short for that position in the NFL and slower than most outside linebackers, the position hell need to transition to at the professional level. He was taken with the 249th overall pick out of 256. Players from Marist, Maine and McGill University in Canada were selected before Sam. "In the world of diversity we live in now, Im honoured to be a part of this," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said during an interview on ESPN. The impact of Sams selection goes far beyond football. At a time when gay marriage is gaining acceptance among Americans, Sams entry into the NFL is a huge step toward the integration of gay men into professional team sports. Pro sports have in many ways lagged behind the rest of society in acceptance. Publicly, most people in and related to the NFL have been supportive of Sam. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said Sam would be welcome in the league and judged solely on his ability to play. A few wondered whether teams would be reluctant to draft Sam because of all the media attention that would come with it. Fair or not, the NFL -- coming off a season in which a bullying scandal involving players on the Miami Dolphins was one of the biggest stories in sports -- was looking at a possible public relations hit if Sam was not drafted. He would likely have been signed as a free agent and given a chance to make a team in training camp, but to many it would have looked as if he was being rejected. Now that hes there, it could be seen as an opportunity for the NFL to show that crass locker room culture is not as prevalent as it might have looked to those who followed the embarrassing Dolphins scandal. Sam Acho Jersey
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.com) - The Oklahoma City Thunder will try to get back on track Monday night when they welcome the Minnesota Timberwolves to Chesapeake Energy Arena.Hes the most talked about young player in English football, but just how good is Marcus Rashford? Adam Bate spoke to his former coaches at Fletcher Moss Rangers, Manchester United and England to find out… This is a climate in which Chelsea teenagers can seek £50,000 per week contracts before their first-team debut; where youngsters are trailed as wonderkids while YouTube remains their only witness. And yet, even against that backdrop, the emergence of Marcus Rashford at Manchester United retains its capacity to surprise.Few had heard of the 18-year-old forward until Anthony Martial went down with an injury during the warm-up for the second leg of Uniteds Europa League last-16 tie with FC Midtyjlland at Old Trafford in late February. Rashford was thrust into the limelight and promptly scored two goals as United turned the tie around. Rashford made a name for himself with a brace on his professional debut He seems to have come from nowhere, former United forward Teddy Sheringham told Sky Sports. By the weekend, hed added another brace in a 3-2 win over Arsenal with veteran talent spotter Arsene Wenger describing Rashford as a player who was surprising for me talent-wise. That theme of surprise has been a recurring one ever since.Three months on and Rashford has eight senior Manchester United goals to his name, an FA Cup winners medal and a debut goal for England. But even after his England call-up, Under-21 boss Gareth Southgate still felt moved to describe Rashfords ascent to the top as very random.However, an extraordinary journey should not be mistaken for a fluke. When Louis van Gaal named Rashford among his substitutes for a Premier League game against Watford in December of last year, he described the player as a fantastic talent and behind the scenes there has long been an awareness of his vast potential. Rashford has scored five goals in the Premier League this season Steve Round was the assistant manager to David Moyes during Uniteds 2013/14 season and recalls the debrief about the clubs most promising young talents. I remember talking to one of the academy coaches and asking who they felt, over the course of the next five years, could come through and press for the first team, Round tells Sky Sports.They mentioned Jesse Lingard and Adnan Januzaj strongly. And there was talk of a young centre-forward called Rashford who they felt had the potential to maybe go on and be very good - but he was a bit raw and wasnt quite ready. They liked the look of him because he had speed, got goals and was a local guy who had a hunger for the club.Hunger. Thats something that registers with Dave Horrocks. Hes the development officer at Fletcher Moss Rangers, the club at which Rashford played for as a boy before embarking upon his United adventure. Horrocks admits to crying when Rashford scored those debut goals and takes particular pride in the young mans attitude.The kids who come to us have a bit more about them and are a bit hungrier to want to win, Horrocks tells Sky Sports. It reflects well on his mother. His father wasnt around but it reflects well on his stable family life, especially coming from the area he started at. He was living in the middle of Withington when he was first knocking about as a five-year-old. Marcus Rashford (second from left) aged 6 with Fletcher Moss Rangers He was taken places, he wasnt sent. He wasnt given a couple of quid in his hand and packed off. Whether it was his brothers or his mother, they spent time with him and thats got to be key for a childs development. Dont stick them out into the garden with a ball - play with them.Rashford was nurtured at home and nurtured at his club. But in a year of fairy-tales, maybe this particular Cinderella story was not as unlikely as the immediate headlines might have made out. For instance, Rashford was selected in the Victory Shield squad for Englands Under-16s while aged just 14. He was well known to both club and country.In fact, he was protected. With United keen to keep his development under the radar, his international involvement was restricted. Kenny Swain was Englands Under-16 coach at the time and stresses that United were well aware of Rashfords special talent. Rashford in England Under-20 action against Canada in March 2016 Ive got news for you, Swain tells Sky Sports. We identified him at 14. I remember him as a great talent. That year group for England won the European Championship at Under-17 so he was in good company. He was a very talented footballer with lots of potential for the future, but he was always going to be a slow burner.I was always in accord with Manchester United over Marcus so he didnt play maybe as much as Id have liked. He probably wouldve played a bit more for me at 16 and he would have had more exposure had Manchester United been prepared to release him a little more often. The staff I was dealing with were very careful with his progress.They were very careful with how they managed him, particularly physically. They didnt want to expose him to too much and you do give them some slack when they ask for it. He was still growing and so he was miles behind the others in some ways. But that doesnt take away from the enormous talent we saw in the boy. Rashford looks complete Marcus Rashford is already looking like the complete Man Utd centre forward, says Niall Quinn. Pictures of Rashford at this time highlight the issue. Smaller than his peers, Manchester Citys interest was curtailed due to concerns over his size and they werent the only ones worried. There were always question marks at the FA at the size of him, adds Swain. Why are we wasting time on him? But providing he grew as Manchester United expected, he had this enormous ability.The anticipated development came in 2014, with Uniteds then academy coach Paul McGuiness highlighting the big strides that Rashford made physically that year. McGuiness pointed to a game against Newcastle in which it became apparent that he didnt realise what this football was about before mentally turning a corner later on.One we saw starting to emerge as he grew into his body more was Marcus Rashford, said McGuinness. He put some exciting parts of games together and we saw some exciting things. Hes emerging and starting to do more. A stunning 25-yard free-kick at Tottenham in an FA Youth Cup tie in February 2015 was testament to his growing confidence. Rashford scored twice on his Premier League debut against Arsenal They key was patience. I think sometimes as a young player youve got to wait until youre physically mature enough to get the opportunity, says Round. Then when you get the opportunity you take it. And hess done exactly that.dddddddddddd Swain agrees: He maybe wasnt able to keep up with others at the same age.There are factors and influences now that can give you some guidance as to where theyre going to finish up and when theyre going to finish their growth spurt but you cant really predict it. Its just a case of being patient. If you look at him now, hes got a tall frame but in terms of muscular definition hes still got loads more to come.Even so, by the end of 2015, the patience and hard work had begun to pay off. Having moved into the central striking role ahead of the injured Demetri Mitchell, one whod been ahead of him in Englands European Under-17 Championship winning group, Rashford did a lot of work with Uniteds coach Colin Little on his finishing. It soon reaped rewards.Hes starting to understand that part of his game and needs to now get a real goal addiction, said McGuiness in December. He can score unbelievable goals, dribbling past three defenders, but he needs to be more like Ruud van Nistelrooy [and score] real goalscorers goals. But Marcus is working hard at it.They were precisely the sort of goals that Rashford was able to score for the first team in 1-0 wins over Manchester City and Aston Villa in the months that followed. Allied to his natural gifts - Rashford was clocked as the fastest man on the pitch in both of those games - and his positive attitude, it proved an alluring combination for Van Gaal. Hes very focused on his work and that I admire when you are so young. Louis van Gaal Indeed, the players willingness to listen was perhaps Rashfords most endearing quality as far as the Dutchman was concerned. Horrocks used to tell him that listening is the best learning tool. Id get a bit moralistic with them and tell them that God gave them two ears and one mouth, explained Horrocks. It will have been good preparation for dealing with Van Gaal.Hes very focused on his work and that I admire when you are so young and there is so much attention now, said the the now departed United boss recently. When you have criticism he can cope with criticism also. He can say: Yes, manager, you are right and I have to do that. I think its fantastic because not a lot of players can see their self-image in a match.Van Gaal did stop short of embracing the comparison with Cristiano Ronaldo, a player who took 70 games to score his eighth goal for United. But he happily named Rashford in the same breath as Patrick Kluivert and with Sir Alex Ferguson calling the teenager a sensation and one of the best in years there will be those worrying about the growing expectations. Louis van Gaal was quick to downplay comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo Normally the first matches a debutant plays are good, said Van Gaal initially. But it is the consistency - he has to show it in the third, fourth, fifth match. Rashford has extended his good form rather longer than that, but we are still talking about a player with only five Premier League goals to his name.That raises the question of whether or not Rashfords form is sustainable. Sheringham may have stated that Rashford seems to be scoring all types of goals at the moment and pointed to the players knack for being in the right place at the right time, but the truth is that his conversion rate is unusually high. That simply cannot be expected to continue.Rashford has scored with 56 per cent of his shots in the Premier League. Thats more than any other player - twice as efficient as Sergio Aguero and three times better than Harry Kane. To put it another way, it could be seen as a reflection of how few goals he should be getting for this shot output. Expected-goals models would expect some regression here. Best Premier League conversion rates 2015/16 Player Club Goals Conversion rate Marcus Rashford Man Utd 5 56% Callum Wilson Bournemouth 5 40% Kelechi Iheanacho Man City 8 38% For a lot of young players, its not the initial burst, its coming back from the dip, says Round. You burst onto the scene, youre fresh, youre innocent and you dont understand the implications of failing, the media treatment and the pressures that come with it. You just play and you love it. You want him to maintain that as long as he can.Manchester United have the right coaches keeping them grounded, keeping their feet on the floor, making sure they understand they have to work for success and that its not given to them on a plate - that theres a responsibility to being a United player. Once thats established by the club it gives the young players a better chance.But there will come a stage where his form dips, he might get an injury, and then it is dropping back into your own environment, regaining your learning experiences, learning from the coaches and players around you and then coming back again fresh and new. Its how they come back that really matters. Thats when they really establish themselves.A lot of it is down to your mentality as a player. Thats why there are so few who actually make it to the very top. Theres no doubt a lot of players - including Rashford - have the physical and technical talent to be top players. Its whether they can put it together mentally and still play at the highest level when the pressure is on. There is no reason why, if he does exceptionally well, he cant knock someone off their perch. Roy Hodgson on Marcus Rashford In that respect, well find out more about Rashford very soon. Itll be very interesting to see what he can do, said Hodgson. There is no reason why, if he does exceptionally well, he cant knock someone off their perch. I think hes got a future if he can continue to develop as hes developed so far.When attitude, ability and opportunity converge like this, theres little reason why that development cant continue. The list of admirers already includes Ferguson, Van Gaal and Wenger, and while Rashfords eventual level remains uncertain, hes surprised people before. Where this young man is concerned, exceptionally well cannot be ruled out. 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