Former Missouri All-American defensive end Michael Sam revealed to the New York Times on Sunday that he is a homosexual. The 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year could become the first openly-gay player in the NFL after he is selected in this spring’s draft.
According to the Times, Sam told his teammates of his sexual orientation in preseason camp last summer.
Coaches at the University of Missouri divided players into small groups at a preseason football practice last year for a team-building exercise. One by one, players were asked to talk about themselves — where they grew up, why they chose Missouri and what others might not know about them.
As Michael Sam, a defensive lineman, began to speak, he balled up a piece of paper in his hands. “I’m gay,” he said. With that, Mr. Sam set himself on a path to become the first publicly gay player in the National Football League.
“I looked in their eyes, and they just started shaking their heads — like, finally, he came out,” Mr. Sam said Sunday in an interview with The New York Times, the first time he spoke publicly about his sexual orientation.
Sam had 48 tackles with 19 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks as he helped Missouri to a 12-2 record this past season. The 6-foot-2, 255-pounder is projected to go in the first three rounds of the NFL draft.
Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel was strongly supportive of Sam in a statement released on Sunday.
“We’re really happy for Michael that he’s made the decision to announce this, and we’re proud of him and how he represents Mizzou,” Pinkel said. “We look forward to following his career, and the success he’s going to have.”
“We expect the leadership at NFL teams around the country, and the league itself, to wholeheartedly embrace the change that is not only sweeping our nation in the form of law, but also defining our playing fields and culture. How Michael Sam is received on the professional level will go a long way in defining the NFL’s legacy,” said Brian Ellner, a leading LGBT advocate, via a release from Athlete Ally.
Sam appeared on ESPN later on Sunday to talk about his announcement. There will no doubt be more discussion on the matter in the days to come.