University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, an NFL draft prospect, told The New York Times that he’s gay, a landmark announcement that sets a course for him to become the first openly gay current NFL player.
Sam is an All-American selection who was voted Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year. The 6-foot-3, 260-pounder is graded as a third- to fourth-round draft target. “I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” Sam told The New York Times. “I just want to own my truth.”
It’s unclear how NFL teams will regard Sam in light of his disclosure. Sam recorded 10.5 sacks and 18 tackles for losses last season and played in the Senior Bowl all-star game.
The New York Times reported that Sam’s agent was questioned recently by NFL scouts if Sam had a girlfriend or if the agent had seen his client with women previously. There is anti-discrimination language in the collective bargaining agreement regarding sexual orientation. NFL teams will be limited by employment policies in what kind of personal questions they can ask Sam at the NFL scouting combine later this month at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Last year, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent the league’s sexual orientation anti-discrimination and harassment policy to all coaches, team presidents and general managers and instructed them to pass it on to all players and staff.
The policy states that all NFL personnel responsible for interviewing and hiring draft-eligible players and free agents “must not seek information concerning or make personnel decisions based on a player’s sexual orientation. This includes asking questions during an interview that suggest that the player’s sexual orientation will be a factor in the decision to draft or sign him.”
The memo included the following examples of prohibited questions: “Do you like women or men? How well do you do with the ladies? Do you have a girlfriend.”
NFL players have come out in the past, but only after their careers are over. That includes former San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Kwame Harris and former Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Esera Tualo.
“We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage,” the NFL said in a statement. “Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”
NBA center Jason Collins announced last year that he’s gay, becoming the first NBA player to do so. Since making that announcement, he hasn’t been signed by a team.
Last year, former Ravens linebacker and special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo predicted that as many as four gay NFL players could come out simultaneously before later backing off that prediction. No players wound up coming out following Ayanbadejo’s prediction.
NFL linebacker Jonathan Vilma recently questioned in an interview with the NFL Network how it would go over to have a gay teammate. “I think he would not be accepted as much as we think he would be accepted,” Vilma said in the interview.
Sam told The New York Times that he’s aware that he may face backlash and extra attention by his decision to discuss his sexual preference. “I’m not naïve,” Sam said. “I know this is a huge deal, and I know how important this is. But my role as of right now is to train for the combine and play in the NFL.”
Sam told The New York Times that his teammates at Missouri, along with coaches and administrators, were extremely supportive of him. He said that one teammate went with him to a gay pride event in St. Louis.
“Some people actually just couldn’t believe I was actually gay,” Sam said in the interview. “But I never had a problem with my teammates. Some of my coaches were worried, but there was never an issue. Once I became official to my teammates, I knew who I was. I knew that I was gay. And I knew that I was Michael Sam, who’s a Mizzou football player who happens to be gay. I was so proud of myself and I just didn’t care who knew. If someone on the street would have asked me, ‘Hey, Mike, I heard you were gay; is that true?’ I would have said yes. I guess they don’t want to ask a 6-3, 260-pound defensive lineman if he was gay or not.”
According to ESPN
Michael Sam, an All-American defensive lineman from Missouri Tigers and the Associated Press’ SEC Defensive Player of the Year, said that he is gay in interviews with ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” and the New York Times on Sunday.
Sam stated publicly what his teammates and coaches at Mizzou have known since August: “I am an openly, proud gay man.”
Sam is eligible for the NFL draft in May. Assuming that he is drafted, Sam could become the first openly gay player in the history of the NFL.
“I understand how big this is,” he said. “It’s a big deal. No one has done this before. And it’s kind of a nervous process, but I know what I want to be … I want to be a football player in the NFL.”
In 2014, “Gay Man to Enter Workforce” has the everyday-occurrence sound of a headline in The Onion. But when the NFL is involved, it’s a first — and potentially a landmark moment — in the history of American sports.
Sam’s decision to speak out now comes after his experience two weeks ago at the Senior Bowl, where, he said, many already seemed aware of his sexual orientation.
“I didn’t realize how many people actually knew, and I was afraid that someone would tell or leak something out about me,” he said. “I want to own my truth. … No one else should tell my story but me.”
He had already confided in a few close friends, Sam recalled, and had dated a fellow athlete who was not a football player — so while coming out to his Mizzou teammates last year was a key moment, it came almost as an afterthought, during preseason training camp.
“Coaches just wanted to know a little about ourselves, our majors, where we’re from, and something that no one knows about you,” Sam said. “And I used that opportunity just to tell them that I was gay. And their reaction was like, ‘Michael Sam finally told us.’ ”
Asked what that moment felt like, Sam said, “I was kind of scared, even though they already knew. Just to see their reaction was awesome. They supported me from Day One. I couldn’t have better teammates. … I’m telling you what: I wouldn’t have the strength to do this today if I didn’t know how much support they’d given me this past semester.”
He did not ask them to keep his revelation a secret.
Raised in the small town of Hitchcock, Texas, Sam said he grew up uncertain about what his sexual orientation was.
“I knew from a young age that I was attracted to guys,” he said, “I didn’t know if it was a phase … I didn’t want to say, ‘Hey, I might be gay. I might be bi.’ I just didn’t know … I wanted to find who I was and make sure I knew what was comfortable. So I didn’t tell anyone growing up.”
It was an upbringing, he said, filled with adversity.
“I endured so much in my past: seeing my older brother killed from a gunshot wound, not knowing that my oldest sister died when she was a baby and I never got the chance to meet her. My second oldest brother went missing in 1998, and me and my little sister were the last ones to see him … my other two brothers have been in and out of jail since 8th grade, currently both in jail.
“Telling the world I’m gay is nothing compared to that.”
Sam had dinner on Saturday with Dave Kopay, a former NFL player who said he was gay in 1975 — three years after his playing career ended.
Among other pro athletes who have said they are gay, Jason Collins, a 12-year NBA veteran, came out in a Sports Illustrated article at the end of the 2012-13 regular season, but has not played for a team since. Midfielder Robbie Rogers became first openly gay male athlete to play in a U.S. professional team sports league when he entered a MLS game in May 2013.
Conner Mertens, a kicker for Willamette University, last month became the first active college football player in the U.S. to come out publicly.
Sam said that he realizes his revelation may engender a variety of reactions in the football world. “There will be negativity, negative reactions,” he said. “I expect that. … Everyone can say hurtful things and hateful things; I don’t let stuff like that distract me. But there are going to be positives. The positives will outweigh the negative.”
Sam led the SEC with 11.5 sacks, and 19 tackles for a loss. Most NFL draft projections see him as a likely mid-round pick, with some saying Sam could go as high as the third round, with a possible position switch to outside linebacker. He is rated as the 12th-best outside pass rusher in the draft by ESPN Scouts Inc.
“I just want to go to the team who drafts me,” he said, “because that team knows about me, knows that I’m gay, and also knows that I work hard. That’s the team I want to go to.”
Sam said that despite some comments from current players, he doesn’t anticipate difficulty gaining acceptance in an NFL locker room.
“Hopefully it will be the same like my locker room,” he said. “It’s a workplace. if you’ve ever been in a Division I or pro locker room, it’s a business place. You want to act professional.”
Sam rejects the appalling slanders that sometimes have been hurled at gay men.
“I mean, people will talk about the stereotype of gays being in the locker room … to me, I think that it’s a little stereotyped that gay people are predators. It’s just very offensive.”
Other such negative stereotypes seem too absurd for him even to consider.
“If you led the SEC with 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for losses?” he said, laughing. “If a gay person did that, I wouldn’t call that person weak.”
Just last week, he said, he came out to his parents, during a phone call.
“I told my mom and dad last week, and they just pretty much said, ‘We knew and we love you and support you,’ ” he said. “I’m their baby boy. I’m the first to go to college. I’m the first to graduate college. Something like this is just another milestone.
“And I love my hometown. I think when this story breaks, I think they’re just going to love me even more for who I am.”
Sam understands that his life is about to change forever; he said he is happy and proud to be speaking out at last.
“I’m not afraid to tell the world who I am. I’m Michael Sam: I’m a college graduate. I’m African American, and I’m gay,” he said. “I’m comfortable in my skin.”