National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

Picking Sam, Rams welcome 1st openly gay player

NEW YORK (AP) Michael Sam waited and waited. Hours passed, rounds came and went, and eventually, there were only eight more picks left on the third and final day of the NFL draft.

For just a moment, it looked as if his chance of being picked by a pro team and becoming the league's first openly gay player might take a detour. Or at least be delayed.

The call finally came in Saturday from the St. Louis Rams, the team right down the road from where Sam played his college ball at the University of Missouri.

Sam was selected in the seventh and final round and admitted it was a frustrating wait. He said teams that passed on him chickened out and he should have been drafted sooner.

"From last season alone, I should've been in the first three rounds. SEC Defensive Player of the Year, All-American," Sam said. He stopped short of directly saying his stock dropped in the draft because he came out.

"You know what, who knows? Who knows? Only the people who sit in the war room know," he said. "They saw Michael Sam, day after day they scratched it off the board. That was their loss. But St. Louis kept me on that board. And you know what I feel like I'm a (Jadeveon) Clowney, a first draft pick. I'm proud of where I am now."

Sam 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 year of his career: He was the co-defensive player of the year in the nation's best college football conference and had 11.5 sacks.

The pick came after several rounds of suspense. The first round of the day, No. 4 overall, came and went, no Sam. Then the fifth and sixth, and finally, the day was down to just a handful of picks.

When Mike Kensil, the NFL's vice president of game operations, walked to the podium at Radio City Music Hall in the draft's 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 Sam's 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.

"Thank you to the St. Louis Rams and the whole city of St. Louis. I'm using every once of this to achieve greatness!!" Sam tweeted with a frenzied typo moments after he was picked, with a picture of himself wearing a Rams cap and a pink polo shirt.

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 he's short for that position in the NFL and slower than most outside linebackers, the position he'll 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, I'm honored to be a part of this," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said during an interview on ESPN.

The NFL had no comment on Sam being drafted.

The impact of Sam's selection goes far beyond football. At a time when gay marriage is gaining acceptance among Americans, Sam's 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.

"Michael Sam wouldn't have been drafted five years ago," said former Viking punter Chris Kluwe, who has accused Minnesota of cutting him in part because of his vocal support for gay rights.

In the last year, NBA veteran Jason Collins has come out publicly as gay, and is now playing for the Brooklyn Nets. Collins said before the Nets' playoff game against the Heat that he was watching the draft and texted Sam after he was picked.

"It's a great day for Michael and his family and for the NFL," Collins said.

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 he's 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. But all the reaction to Sam's news wasn't positive from the league.

Miami safety Don Jones posted a one-word tweet, "Horrible" shortly after Sam was drafted. It was later taken down. The team's general manager said he was aware, and was disappointed.

Wade Davis, a gay former NFL player who is now the executive director of the gay rights advocacy group "You Can Play," said that Sam only needs to do his job to have an impact beyond the field.

"Michael Sam doesn't have to be a vocal advocate (for gay rights)," Davis said. "His visibility is his advocacy."

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Follow AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

Gordon pulls away late for win at Kansas Speedway

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) Jeff Gordon grabbed the lead in the final laps at Kansas Speedway and held on for his first victory of the season and 89th overall.

The 42-year-old Gordon held off a hard-charging Kevin Harvick on the final lap to move into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field.

Gordon won for the first time since October at Martinsville and became the ninth driver to win this season. He entered the race with the points lead, but exclaimed a weight was lifted off his shoulders as he crossed the finish line. He won for the third time at Kansas.

Kasey Kahne was third, followed by Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Danica Patrick was seventh for her best career Cup finish.

Nets cool Heat, cut East semifinal deficit to 2-1

NEW YORK (AP) Joe Johnson scored 19 points, Andray Blatche had career playoff highs of 15 points and 10 rebounds, and the Brooklyn Nets handed the Miami Heat their first loss this postseason, 104-90 on Saturday night in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Paul Pierce scored 14 points, Deron Williams and Kevin Garnett bounced back from awful offensive efforts, and the Nets withstood LeBron James' 16-point first quarter, then held him to two baskets over the final three quarters.

Brooklyn, which swept Miami in the regular season, can tie the series with a victory here Monday night in Game 4.

James scored 28 points for the Heat, who hadn't even faced a fourth-quarter deficit in these playoffs before having their eight-game winning streak in the postseason snapped. It was their first loss since Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

Dolphins DB Jones draws rebuke for tweet about Sam

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) A negative one-word tweet from Miami Dolphins safety Don Jones about the drafting of Michael Sam drew a rebuke from the team.

Shortly after the St. Louis Rams selected Sam in the seventh round Saturday, Jones tweeted, "Horrible." The tweet was taken down a short time later.

Sam is the first openly gay player to be selected in the NFL draft.

The Dolphins were at the center of bullying scandal last season that embarrassed the league and drew nationwide scrutiny of locker room culture in the NFL.

After the draft, Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey said he was made aware of Jones' tweet.

"I was disappointed in those comments," Hickey said. "That's not what we stand for as an organization. The draft weekend is the culmination for so many players of their lifetime achievement of their dream to achieve their goal. For Michael Sam, for all the other players, it's such a great celebration as they begin their future.

"We're going to sit down with Don Jones and address (the tweet) appropriately."

Jones' agent, Chris Martin, said he was unaware of the tweet and declined to comment.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Bruins beat Canadiens 4-2 to take 3-2 series lead

BOSTON (AP) Reilly Smith and Jarome Iginla scored 22 seconds apart to help the Boston Bruins snap a five-year playoff power-play drought against Montreal and beat the Canadiens 4-2 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday night.

The Bruins lead the best-of-seven series 3-2, with a chance to eliminate the Canadiens in Montreal on Monday night. Game 7 would be Wednesday night back in Boston.

Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson also scored, and Tuukka Rask stopped 29 shots for Boston. He extended his shutout streak to 122 minutes, 6 seconds before Brendan Gallagher scored to make it 3-1 on a power play with 5:21 left in the second period.

Carey Price made 26 saves for Montreal. P.K. Subban had a late goal power-play goal.

The Bruins had not scored a power-play goal in the playoffs against the Canadiens in 39 tries over 14 playoff games dating to 2009.

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