By Ross Forman
Editor’s note: Michael Sam, the first openly gay man drafted into the NFL (by the St. Louis Rams this past May), signed autographs June 27 at the three-day Fanatics Authentic Sports Spectacular, held at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Ill. Sam agreed to a brief interview – his first exclusive interview since April, according to his representatives – with Ross Forman to talk about the sports collectibles industry.
Jason Lansing was first in line to get an autograph from Michael Sam, who appeared at the Fanatics Authentic Sports Spectacular, a three-day sports memorabilia convention held in late June at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Ill.
Lansing scored a signed, authentic full-size St. Louis Rams helmet, inscribed in gold ink. The helmet is going on a shelf above Lansing’s bed.
The signature cost $59, but the memory was priceless.
“I had the helmet for a couple of years. My dad got it for me, and it was under my bed,” said Lansing, 15, who will be a sophomore in the fall at Francis Parker High School in Chicago. “I thought, ‘There’s not a better person to get signed on a Rams helmet than Michael Sam. He’s one of their most historic players in franchise history.
“To meet someone like that is pretty cool. He’s a trivia question, so people will always remember him. I think it’s a great piece to add to my autograph collection, and very unique.”
Sam signed autographs for one hour, alongside 25 former Chicago Cubs players who also were signing during the event’s Salute to 100 Years of Wrigley.
Bob Dernier, a former Cubs outfielder, walked over to meet Sam. Lou Brock, a Baseball Hall of Fame outfielder who started his career with the Cubs yet earned his notoriety while playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, spent several minutes talking with Sam. Brock and Sam also posed for pictures together.
“This is the biggest signing I’ve ever done, which is great. I didn’t know what to expect coming in,” Sam said minutes before meeting the public, lounging on a leather chair and watching TV. Video cameras shooting for a Sam documentary were rolling during my interview with him, too.
“I was just expecting to sit at a table, some fans would come (for my autograph); I wasn’t expecting all this,” he said.
When asked for his first impression of the massive sports memorabilia convention, which includes a behind-the-curtain area where athletes often have to sign hundreds of additional items, he said, “Oh man, my hand is about to fall off.”
A Texas native, Sam played four seasons at the University of Missouri, highlighted by the 2013 SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year award. He also was first-team All-SEC last season. The Rams drafted Sam in the seventh round (249th overall).
Sam came out publicly this past February, though his college teammates learned he was gay last August.
“Growing up, I didn’t really focus on signatures because I didn’t have the money to go buy some, or buy online. But if I see a big sports star, I’d ask for his autograph,” Sam said.
When pressed to name one autograph he’d like to have, Sam answered, “That’s a good question. I guess it would be … Jackie Robinson.”
Fitting, some will say, as Sam has been compared to the groundbreaking former baseball player.
Cole Greenhouse, 27, who lives in Evanston, Ill., and is in the Navy, was a 2009 Missouri graduate and former water polo player at the school. He attended the Fanatics Authentic Sports Spectacular with his fiancé, Rachel Landa.
“He was awesome (at Missouri), definitely a big key to the team’s success. If we didn’t have him, I don’t think we would have done as well as we did. He had a break-out season (in 2013),” Greenhouse said.
Greenhouse, grinning ear-to-ear after meeting Sam at the show, said the football star “was awesome to meet, just a normal guy.” Landa told Sam: “All of America is proud of you.”
Sam is always a willing autograph signer. “I love when young kids come up to me, asking for my autograph,” he said, adding, “Yeah, autograph requests do kind of get annoying when adults ask their kids (to get the autograph), just so they can sell it. But someone wants the signature, so that’s all that matters.”
Sam said he does not mind signing autographs that come via the mail. And he said he keeps the notes that accompany the autograph requests.
“I have a bag of fan letters,” he said.
As for memorabilia, Sam saved his helmet and jerseys from Missouri.
And whose game-worn and signed jersey would he like?
“Michael Jordan,” Sam said. “That’d be awesome.”
Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com.