“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. I’m comfortable in my skin.”
Tonight, Sam, the former Missouri defensive end and 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, came out, making him the first-ever openly gay draft prospect.
Sam said he told his teammates at the beginning of the 2013 season, during a team-building exercise where players were asked to share something others didn’t know about him. His teammates then kept it quiet, allowing Sam to come out when he was ready.
“I understand how big this is,” he told ESPN’s Outside The Lines. “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.”
Sam said the decision to come out was prompted by the fact that other people seemed to be aware that he is gay. He told OTL he wanted to be the one to tell his story, not someone else.
Both Mizzou football coach Gary Pinkel and the university released statements expressing their pride in Sam, and the NFL also put out a statement saying they would welcome any player capable of playing the game.
Sam joined Twitter following the announcement, where he gained thousands of followers in almost no time at all. Of course, as with any major event, both the best and worst of humanity has been showcased. While his teammates, fans, current NFL players, and people in general have sent a multitude of tweets congratulating Sam for his bravery and wishing him well, many have also made derogatory comments towards him.
One question posed is whether or not this will have any impact on Sam’s draft stock. He is likely to be a mid-round choice, and a Sports Illustrated article seemed to suggest that the league isn’t ready to be as inclusive as we might hope, at least not in the front offices.
“I just know with this going on this is going to drop him down,” said a veteran NFL scout. “There’s no question about it. It’s human nature. Do you want to be the team to quote-unquote ‘break that barrier?’”
If that’s true, it’s a pretty sad, albeit perhaps unsurprising, commentary on the state of the NFL. As for Sam, he seemed optimistic about his future. “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.”