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Fisher: Michael Sam not a distraction

Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Openly gay rookie linebacker Michael Sam has "absolutely not" created a distraction for the St. Louis Rams, coach Jeff Fisher told ESPN Radio on Wednesday.

Fisher was asked on "Mike & Mike" to respond to Tony Dungy's comments that the media coverage following Sam's journey to become the first openly gay player to make an NFL roster would have caused him to pass on drafting him if he was still an NFL coach.

"Let's define distraction. There were a couple extra cameras during the early OTAs, there may have been an extra camera yesterday as the rookies reported and went on the field for the first time, but no, it's not," Fisher said Wednesday.

Fisher called Sam "a very passionate athlete" who is "very focused on trying to make this football team."

"We want to give Michael every opportunity, like I said over and over, to make this football team," Fisher said.

Dungy's comments to the Tampa Tribune for a story published Sunday created a backlash within traditional and social media. On Tuesday, in a statement released to media outlets, Dungy tried to clarify his original comments, saying he gave an "honest answer" to questions about Sam, and said he believes the linebacker deserves the chance to play in the NFL.

Sam, speaking Tuesday at St. Louis' training camp, laughed and brushed off Dungy's critical comments.

"It is what it is," he said. "What are you going to do about it?

"Thank God he wasn't the St. Louis Rams coach," Sam added. "I have a lot of respect for Coach Dungy, and like everyone in America, everyone is entitled to their own opinions."

Fisher said Wednesday that the Rams are "not treating [Sam] any differently than anybody else on this team." He also applauded Sam's reaction to Dungy's comments.

"I think his response to Tony's stuff yesterday was heartfelt and honest," Fisher said. "It's interesting that it's different inside the building than the perception is outside. Michael Sam is one of 14 defensive linemen we have on the roster. It's going to be very, very competitive at this position, as everybody knows."

Dungy, a former coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts, who is now an NBC Sports analyst, was asked on "The Dan Patrick Show" if his Christian faith influences his opinion when it relates to Sam.

"It does, and I accept that as a Christian," Dungy said. "I don't think people should expect me to back down on my faith, but this is not about that, this is a discussion about a particular player at a particular time."

Dungy said he hadn't thought about reaching out to Sam, but acknowledged he might do so now because of the controversy over his comments.

"No animosity toward him, even though I disagree with his lifestyle, I love him and wish him the best," Dungy said.

The time frame of when Dungy made his remarks is in question. Tribune reporter Ira Kaufman told "The Dan Patrick Show" on Tuesday that he talked to Dungy "a week or two back." In his statement Tuesday, Dungy said he made his comments when "the Oprah Winfrey reality show that was going to chronicle Michael's first season had been announced." However, that documentary series of Sam's rookie season was postponed in mid-May -- long before Dungy was interviewed by the Tribune, according to Kaufman.

On Wednesday, when asked on "The Dan Patrick Show" when he made his comments to the Tribune, Dungy still maintained that he talked to the newspaper "right after the draft."

ESPN.com Rams reporter Nick Wagoner contributed to this report.

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