Michael Sam rejoins team: Michael Sam Alouettes

Published: June 26, 2015

Michael Sam rejoins team: Michael Sam Alouettes, Jim Popp will not give up on Michael Sam. The vice-president of the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes keeps in daily contact with the sport’s first openly gay player and his agents, believing their words are a confirmation that Sam has not quit the game.

“I think he will be back,” Popp told the Guardian. “I’ll be surprised if he is not back. He wants to play. I will be very surprised if he is not back.”

Sam left the Alouettes on June 12, about two and a half weeks into the team’s training camp, to tend to a personal matter. Montreal opens their season on Thursday night and Popp had hoped Sam would have returned by now, but he said he also understands the pressure Sam is under and feels the player needs time away.

Sitting in the lobby of a local hotel, Popp spoke at length about his admiration for Sam, his belief that Sam can be a great pass rusher in professional football, and indicated that several NFL teams remain interested in the defensive end.

Popp also revealed that he came very close to signing Sam and Tim Tebow last fall, in moves that would have placed two of the world’s most talked-about athletes on the same roster.

Popp believes Sam is tired. After more than a year of being the somewhat reluctant face of gay athletes, making international headlines, being besieged for photos and interviews, getting a tepid welcome from the NFL and being cut twice, Sam has endured more than he ever expected. Everything became too much and he simply had to get away.

“I think he needed a break,” Popp said. “That’s my personal belief. I think it was just overwhelming to some degree, and he needs to clear his mind, clear his head. Do I think he wants to play? Do I think he wants to be on the field? Do I think he wants to be Michael Sam the football player? I, 100%, believe that. Yes.”

He suspects Sam was unaware of how much attention the announcement of his sexuality would create. Since Sam had in 2013 revealed to his college teammates at Missouri that he was gay – it was an open secret on campus – Popp wonders if Sam expected a similarly mild response, and was stunned when the reaction turned out to be much bigger.

“I don’t think he thought of it [as groundbreaking] when he came out,” Popp said. “When he does actually say it – you have to remember this – he’s already established, he’s the leader of the team, the star defensive player, and everybody’s already his buddies and friends and they already knew a lot of [it]. So everything was great. Now when you’re starting a pro career and that story is out, now you’re every other rookie that comes in to a professional camp.

“It’s not easy, it’s a tough go to try and break through. There’s a limited percentage of people in the world who ever get that job, and it’s just tough. I’m sure that with the additional pressure of being the first openly gay player and all the attention that comes with that, it’s even tougher.”

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