As you’ve no doubt heard by now, the sports world witnessed some significant history being played out Sunday evening.
Michael Sam, who ended his stellar Missouri career in 2013 as an All-American defensive end and co-leader in the SEC in sacks, announced to the world last night that he is in fact gay. The public proclamation sets Sam up to become the first active, openly-gay player in the NFL, with the defensive lineman expected to be taken somewhere in the middle(ish) rounds of the upcoming draft.
While the news took the general public by surprise, it was far from that for the Mizzou football program. During summer camp last August, Sam revealed to his teammates and coaches that he is a homosexual. In fact, some of his Tiger teammates had known for years about this aspect of Sam’s personal life.
In a statement sent out shortly after Sam’s announcement, head coach Gary Pinkel said that “[w]e discussed how to deal with that from a public standpoint, and ultimately Michael decided that he didn’t want that to be the focal point of the season.”
“We left it that whenever he felt the time was right, however he wanted to make the announcement, that we had his back and we’d be right there with him,” Pinkel added.
Both Pinkel and athletic director Mike Alden used a form of the word “pride” in discussing the huge step taken by a former member of the football program.
“We’re very proud of Michael and the courage he has displayed for coming out,” Pinkel said.
Alden stated that “[w]e are proud of him on every level.”
Below are the complete texts of the statements from Pinkel and Alden, beginning with the former:
“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. Michael is a great example of just how important it is to be respectful of others, he’s taught a lot of people here first-hand that it doesn’t matter what your background is, or your personal orientation, we’re all on the same team and we all support each other. If Michael doesn’t have the support of his teammates like he did this past year, I don’t think there’s any way he has the type of season he put together.
“We talk all the time here in our program about how one of our core values is to respect the cultural differences of others, and this certainly applies. We view ourselves as one big family that has a very diverse collection of people from all walks of life, and if you’re part of our family, we support you.
“Looking back, I take great pride in how Michael and everyone in our program handled his situation. This past August, Michael was very direct with the team when he decided to let everyone know that he is gay. We discussed how to deal with that from a public standpoint, and ultimately Michael decided that he didn’t want that to be the focal point of the season. He wanted to focus on football and not do anything to add pressure for him or for his teammates, and I think that’s a great example of the kind of person he is. We left it that whenever he felt the time was right, however he wanted to make the announcement, that we had his back and we’d be right there with him.
“We’re very proud of Michael and the courage he has displayed for coming out. We look forward to following his career, and the success he’s going to have.”
“We are so proud of Michael for what he has accomplished at Mizzou academically, socially and competitively. This is a young man who earned his degree from MU, was a unanimous All-American on the football field and now he’s being a leader in his personal life. He continues to display great character, courage and compassion. We are proud of him on every level.
“We work very hard at the University of Missouri to provide an environment that is respectful and inclusive of all people. We’re pleased with the strides we’ve made over the years with our student-athletes, coaches and staff about respecting and celebrating our differences. We continue to grow every day. We talk all the time about our core value of respect, and we emphasize that in a number of ways, whether it’s through individual actions, team settings, public efforts such as our ‘If You Can Play, You Can Play’ video, and even our Men-for-Men and Women-for-Women programs.
“The University’s theme is called ‘One Mizzou.’ What that theme represents is that we are all family, we are all Tigers, and we should all respect and appreciate each other.
“We wish Michael all the best in all that he does.”