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Michael Sam Detours from Easy Street to the Road Less Traveled

Michael Sam transitioned from the SEC to an NFL training camp as the most celebrated seventh-round pick in football history. Should he transition from the CFL to the NFL, he will have succeeded in navigating the road less traveled.

The openly-gay pass rusher enjoyed a Sports Illustrated cover, congratulations from the president of the United States, and requests from Fortune 500 companies to endorse their products in the wake of announcing his homosexuality. The hype-train derailed, quickly.

His backers expected an NFL team to snatch him up on the second day of the 2014 draft. Instead, the smallish and athletically-wanting defensive end waited until late in the seventh round. The St. Louis Rams, stacked on the defensive line, cut him despite Sam’s three preseason sacks. A stint on the practice squad of the Dallas Cowboys, a team with pass-rushing deficiencies, left Sam again looking for a suitor. At this year’s inaugural NFL veteran combine, Sam ran a tortoise-like five seconds in the 40-yard dash.

Canada called, and Michael Sam wisely, after many rings, finally picked up the receiver. At Missouri, where he recorded 11.5 sacks, and during last year’s NFL preseason, during which he dumped Johnny Manziel in the dirt, Sam impressed. His measurables—in the weight room, on a scale or from a measuring stick, on a running track—don’t add up to NFL talent. But on the field, where the NFL plays its games, Sam does well. So, if he wants to realize his dream of playing in the NFL, the CFL grants him the ideal stage to showcase his play upon.

It worked for Cameron Wake. It can work for Michael Sam.

From Vince Lombardi to an eight-year-old taking the field for the first time, football enthusiasts all seem to make the same observation. On every down, a player gets knocked down in the dirt. Football forces the humbled players to rise and fight.

Football serves as a metaphor for life and Michael Sam’s life serves as a metaphor for football. He watched two of his brothers go to jail. His family suffered through the death of three of Sam’s siblings. He experienced homelessness. He gained a degree from college despite no one in his family line ever even gaining acceptance.

Michael Sam knows adversity. He knows how to adapt and overcome. The CFL offers him a platform, albeit a different one with bigger end zones and three downs and twelve men to a side, to display his football instincts and persistence.

From the cake-smearing incident on draft day to the Oprah documentary, everyone knows the superficial Michael Sam story—that he’s a gay guy who plays an uber-masculine sport. In the CFL, the pass rusher can show the world the deeper Michael Sam story—that he’s a guy who gets up and fights after life knocks him down.

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