One of the best parts of the Michael Sam story at Missouri, where Sam informed his teammates he was gay and nobody made a peep about it the entire season, was how respectful the entire football program was of a historic moment in sports. Sam became the first openly gay football player at the highest level of college football and later went on to become the first openly gay football player drafted by an NFL team, the St. Louis Rams. Now the entire program is being recognized for how it handled Sam and his news.
The SEC awarded Missouri’s football team with a sportsmanship award for how the entire team responded and respected Sam’s wishes to keep the focus on football last fall. In this day and age of instant news and social media and networking, to keep this a secret among the entire team is a testament to the commitment to the team each person associated with the Tigers had, although former quarterback James Franklin said it was more about acceptance instead of support. What makes it even more impressive is the fact the Tigers made a run to the SEC Championship Game, garnering more and more attention from the media along the way in the SEC, the top conference in college football. Sam opened up to his team, asked for it to be kept private until he was ready to go public with it, and everybody bought in, from the players to the coaches.
“Sportsmanship, civility and social responsibility are marks of character that last a lifetime,” said SEC Commissioner Mike Slive in a release from the SEC. “We are proud of these teams from Missouri, Tennessee and Georgia and the women’s golf coaches of the SEC for setting an example for us all.”
The sportsmanship award is voted on by the SEC’s athletic directors. The football teams at Tennessee and South Carolina were each awarded the male sportsmanship award in 2013. Sam was presented with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award in May.