Michael Sam’s announcement that he is gay might be enough to change the game for the NFL. No gay man has ever come out publicly as an active player in the NFL but at least four have done so after leaving the game. Sam says he does not want to be one of those men; he is openly gay and proud.
Sam, who was raised in Texas and played college football in Missouri, is an All-American defensive lineman and the Associated Press’ SEC Defensive Player of the year. He is eligible for the NFL draft this coming May and if drafted Sam would change the game as the first openly gay player in NFL’s history.
Other men are known to have exited “the closet” after they left the game such as David Kopay, Wade Davis, Esera Tuaolo and Roy Simmons. Sam, in an interview on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, made public what his coaches and teammates at Mizzou already knew about him. They have known since August 2013 that Sam is an openly gay man who happens to love playing the game of football.
Sam admitted that he was kind of nervous because he understands how big of a deal this is. No one has had the courage to do this before but Sam said he knows exactly what he wants to be – a football player in the National Football League. This is a first and would be a landmark moment in the history of the American sports organization.
Sam said he wants to own his truth as opposed to it leaking out somewhere down the line. He said no one should tell his story for him. He had previously confided in some of his close friends as well as dated a non-football athlete, so his sexual orientation was not a secret to many that already knew him.
The coaches often want to get to know members of their team a little better and will ask questions about them such as where they are from, what they are majoring in and something no one knows about them. Sam used that as an opportunity to open up about his sexuality. He acknowledged he was scared but was relieved once he did so.
When asked about his coaches’ reaction, Sam said they were happy he finally told them. His coaches already knew as did many of his teammates. Sam was amazed by their reaction; he said they supported him from the first day. It is the support he has received from his team and coaches that gave him the courage to come out to the NFL as a whole.
Gary Pinkel, Sam’s coach, said he is really proud of Sam and the manner in which he represents Mizzou. Pinkel spoke very highly of Sam calling him a great example who constantly displays the importance of being respectful to others. Sam’s message teaches that it makes no difference what a person’s background is or their personal orientation, they are all on the same team and support each other.
Sam’s coaches believe that he just may be the one to change the game for the NFL and they could not be more proud of him and all of his accomplishments.
According to Sam, telling the world that he is a gay man has no comparison to what he has endured in his past. His upbringing was filled with adversity. Sam had an older sister who died as a baby which he never had the opportunity to meet, he witnessed his older brother die from a gunshot, he and his younger sister were the last to see his second oldest brother who disappeared in 1998 and he has two other brothers who are incarcerated and have been in and out of jail since the 8th grade.
Although Sam has heard a few comments from current players he does not believe his sexual preference with hinder his acceptance in an NFL locker room. He anticipates the same experience he currently has; it is a workplace and the goal is to always act professional.
Sam said he is comfortable in his skin. He understands that his life is now changed forever and he is proud and happy to finally speak out about it. Sam says he is not afraid to tell the world who he is, “I am Michael Sam, an African-American, a college graduate and I am gay.”
Sam’s announcement that he is gay might just change the game for the NFL. To date, no gay man has ever come out publicly as an active player in the NFL hopefully this is about to change. Michael Sam says not only is he is openly gay and proud; he is qualified and ready to play in the NFL.
By: Cherese Jackson (Virginia)