Lead NFL draft pick, Michael Sam, is about to be the first openly gay NFL player

michaelsam
We’ve heard rumors for some time that there was a coalition of NFL players who were ready to publicly come out as gay. That hasn’t happened yet, but an NFL early draft prospect and University of Missouri graduate, Michael Sam, 24, has come out. Sam, a defensive lineman, is an early round draft pick and is about to become the first openly gay NFL player.

In interviews with ESPN and The NY Times, Sam explained that he came out to his team in August, 2013, and that his team rallied around him and supported him. To the NY Times, he said “I knew at the time that this can happen anywhere. If my team can support me, any team can support me.” Sam also made it clear that he didn’t want “to be defined as a gay athlete. I want to be defined for being a great person [with] great character.” He added “I may be the first, but I won’t be the last.

On ESPN, Sam explained that he had a difficult childhood marred by tragedy. He said that his oldest brother was killed by a gunshot wound, that his older sister died as a baby, and that his second oldest brother “went missing in 1998.” Sam and another sister “were the last ones to see him and we pronounced him dead two years later.” His other two brothers are “currently both in jail.” To Sam, telling people he’s gay is “nothing compared” to the hardships he’s endured. I found his story, and the way he explained it, very powerful. He said “I could be dead, but I made a choice from a young age that I didn’t want to follow my brothers… I knew that I wanted to have some success so my family could be proud of me.

When asked how he feels about possibly being the first openly gay player in the NFL, Sam said “I don’t really look at it that way. I’m Michael Sam and I’m a football player. I want to be a football player in the NFL. I understand that this is a big deal, but I know what I want to be and I want to play in the NFL.

Sam explained that he decided to come out now because it was common knowledge that he was gay, after he had come out to his team last year. He said he was afraid “it would leak out without me actually owning my truth. I wanted to let the world know, hey I’m gay. Let me tell my own story.

He added “I never focus on what people stay in the stands… my entire focus is on the game. I don’t let things like that distract me…. if I work hard, if I make plays, that’s all that should matter.

I was so impressed by Sam’s interviews, how well he explained why he chose to come out, and what that means to him in the context of his career and in the broader context of the NFL. So many other people are impressed with him too, and countless NFL players and athletes have come out to support him. I do think Sam is right, he’s not going to be the last player to come out.

Incidentally, a college football player for Willamette University in Oregon has come out as bisexual. Conner Mertens, a 19 year-old starter kicker and Freshman, made the announcement to his team two weeks ago. They were overwhelmingly supportive. Mertens is thought to be the first college football player to come out while still playing.

I heard on Fox Sports Live that “as of now, there is no openly gay player in the NHL, NFL, NBA or Major League Baseball.” Jason Collins, a former NBA player, came out last year.

Here’s Michael Sam’s statement to the NY Times:

And here’s his interview with ESPN:

 

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57 Responses to “Lead NFL draft pick, Michael Sam, is about to be the first openly gay NFL player”

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  1. cro-girl says:

    Call me crazy but I don’t really care. Hopefully one day we’ll get to the point where this isn’t newsworthy, just like heterosexual NFL players.

    • Sayrah says:

      I think the fact that he did come out to his teammates last year and it wasn’t a big deal is the story. It shows that he can be a top draft pick, be out and it won’t be a big deal.

    • MrsB says:

      One day it won’t be a big deal, but this is the sort of thing that has to set it all in motion. I’m so proud of him for coming out before the draft, it would’ve been easier on him to wait till after the draft. He is very courageous.

      On another note, he actually isn’t really considered a “high” draft pick. He has been projected(before his announcement) from the 3rd to 7th round.

  2. Kali says:

    This is awesome. Don’t really have much more that I can say beyond that. If things go well for him, it has the potential to open up avenues for other athletes internationally.

  3. Sarah says:

    I think I’m reacting to the wrong part of this story, but wow, his parents had seven children, and three of them are already dead. That really smacks of terrible parenting to me – I’m not trying to be sarcastic here, that really is shocking to me.

    • Joy says:

      This is where most of the crowd will jump in and say you’re being hateful and judge mental. I however think you’re probably very right.

    • Sonya says:

      I hesitate to call it all parenting, but clearly it sounds like they may not have been in the best of neighborhoods under the best of circumstances. I would have thought the exact thing you wrote a few years ago, but recently in my life I have met people who came from the type of background I imagine he came from (again we have little info in this article) and some of them spoke of hard working parents who honestly gave all they could. Sadly, that is not always enough.

    • Renee says:

      Maybe that’s the case but maybe it’s also the case that they had bad parenting combined with the odds being stacked against them. There are a lot of dysfunctional families that are protected from the fallout of bad parenting because they have money and/or other privileges that did this.

    • V says:

      I’m not sure if you could blame it all on the parents unless you know the circumstances for those three deaths. If you hear him talk, he has a great deal of love and respect for his parents and that isn’t usually the case when someone has had a bad upbringing. So, maybe more hard knock life than a lack of good parenting.

    • Kim1 says:

      Well I have an aunt who is a widow who lost four kids ,two were murdered.One of her daughters was murdered by her husband.Her oldest son was killed by a carjacker .Another son died in a car accident.Last year her daughter died from AIDS. My aunt is not a bad parent.Everything is not Black and White.

      • jaye says:

        This. Exactly. My grandparents were hardworking and even though they both had their issues, they were good parents and loved their children. They lived in the projects and, admittedly had a hard scrabble life. Two of their children were raging drug addicts, one of whom died of AIDS, the other was murdered in a botched robbery. Another was an alcoholic. The other 7 worked their way out of the projects and are successful in their chosen careers. Like Kim1 said, everything is not all black and white.

    • Renee28 says:

      I don’t think it’s a case of bad parenting. It’s most likely a case of bad environment and bad circumstances. You can have the best parents in the world but if you’re growing up in a bad environment the odds are stacked against you. I don’t know enough about his background but I suspect this is the case.

      • Nerd Alert says:

        +1

        The whole community is aware when a cute little white child goes missing but poor black kids die/go missing all the time and nobody ever gives a hoot. It’s really sad and without knowing the circumstances, it’s unfair to put it on the parents.

        As for his coming out, I long for a day when this is a non-story, but I’m so happy sports are starting to progress this way.

    • Fatkid says:

      I disagree with the “bad parenting” assumption. My aunt had five kids, and two are now dead. That’s not my aunt & uncle’s fault. Life sucks and your parents can’t control every choice you make, every situation you find yourself, or even the people you surround yourself with. Your parents give you the tools and support to navigate life; and even the best parent can’t insulate their children from tragedy.

    • allheavens says:

      @Sarah

      So I guess, Martin Luther King’s parents were terrible, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s parents were terrible, the parents who lost children at Newtown and Columbine were terrible.

      Every parent that loses a child to the streets, to illness or accident is not a bad parent and generalizations and assumptions just make you look terrible.

  4. MrsBPitt says:

    It makes me so happy that so many people are being so supportive of Michael…hopefully, one day, a person’s sexuality, will be a non-story!

  5. Sonya says:

    I think it is wonderful and that he was smart with his timing. Coming out after he was drafted could have caused a backlash with a team now “stuck” with an openly gay player. Now, whatever team drafts him, and I believe he will be drafted – he is an awesome player – will know ahead of time and made the choice. I DO NOT THINK IT SHOULD MATTER, but right now it still does. Gay players are not well received and the climate has been slow to change. I think he is doing a BIG thing for NFL and gay players/fans (of which I am one!)

    • Lee says:

      Yes, I read a quote from someone (I think it was his agent/manager?) who said something very similar. Basically, that by speaking up now, ahead of the draft, he is ensuring that whichever team drafts him is aware and still wants him and it will then be a much more positive environment for him as a player and for the team as well.

  6. Mar says:

    Good for him. He is setting a great example for future players.

  7. QQ says:

    Ive got fking lovehearts in my eyes…he expressed himself so awesomely, and the support of his family and his school have been just Ugh! Just crushing my thug…on top of it all he is so dang cute! I MIGHT start paying attention to Football for more than the butts*

    * big MIGHT , football makes me sleepy

  8. Luca26 says:

    He is amazing. I hope he has a great career ahead of him.

  9. NewWester says:

    The big test will be how the players on the team that draft him will react to him. It is a shame in this day and age being gay is still such a big deal for people to accept.

  10. Cait says:

    It’s great that so many of us support him.

    But we can’t conflate our own reactions with what it’s like in a locker room, where folks like Jon Vilma worry openly about dudes checking them out.

    The NFL is an alpha male kind of league, where “pussy” is a pejorative to suggest that being compared to a woman is the worst thing EVAH.

    Most of the public has undergone a fantastic paradigm shift towards sexuality (well, sort of – gender issues as they relate to sexuality are still very scary), but Michael Sam is brave for two huge reasons:

    1. He did this before the draft, possibly costing himself loads of money, even under rookie salary rules.

    2. He knows full well that the front office isn’t where he faces the most adversity – it’s the locker room.

    Incidentally, I find some irony in the fact that in January, sportswriters and GM’s were all over the SEC Defensive Player of the Year for his fantastic performance in the Cotton Bowl. Since yesterday, the narrative has shifted to downplaying him. Suddenly he’s undersized. Suddenly his numbers are inflated. So to folks who can impact the course of his chosen profession, his sexuality clearly matters.

    It’s a big deal. And I think he’s awesome and strong.

    And he needs to be.

    • grabbyhands says:

      Exactly what I thought. Suddenly, he has all these weaknesses that people didn’t really comment on before. Typical cowardice.

    • Renee says:

      Yes, thanks for pointing this out. I think that people like to think that they are being progressive by being all, who cares, sexual orientation doesn’t matter in (insert year here) 2014 but a LOT of homophobia is still in existence and there are very real implications and effects for people who are out, including shaming and shunning, economic repercussions, and physical harm. The things that you list here are an example of that and show how insidious homophobia is and how it operates.

    • mom2two says:

      +1 Cait
      I applaud him for coming out. The NFL is not exactly the most open minded organization. And as these potential pros go through all that they have to go through before the draft, he (as they all do) has to answer very invasive questions about his life.
      I wish him all the best in his career.

    • Tippy says:

      According to Sports illustrated:

      “”90 percent of teams” were already aware that Sam was gay and had dropped him off their draft boards prior to his announcement.”

      At 6’2″ 260lbs he is undersized to play Defensive End at the NFL level and would need to bulk up without losing speed or change position to Linebacker.

      The inevitable media frenzy that would come along with drafting Michael Sam might appeal to a few teams such as the Cowboys, Redskins or Jets, but most would rather avoid it.

      If he is ready, willing and able to contribute to a team’s success at the next level the Patriots might be his best shot.

      • Tiffany says:

        I doubt he can bulk up in a healthy way between now and are season so a linebacker position is a possibility. The Rams needs to do clean house a bit and I would like to see him play for my home team. To go from Mizzou to St Louis, I think he would be alright here. I just hope the GM’s that was downplaying him because they sure are not in the position to do that.

    • Mrs. Darcy says:

      @Cait -Well said. For anyone thinking this isn’t a big deal, they haven’t followed the past couple of years of truly disgusting homophobic behaviour that has leaked out behind the scenes of the NFL. This young man is incredibly brave and will be instrumental in paving the way for others. It is so sad he is being downmarked already, but I believe it – the same thing happened to that other player (I forget his name sorry) who was merely being voacal about gay rights and ended up essentially blacklisted. They wrote him off as being at th end of his career, they can not do this here and not face a backlash hopefully. So brave.

    • A Different Kate says:

      I follow college/NFL football fairly closely, and people have been talking about him being undersized for NFL purposes for a long time. Prior to this announcement, he was always projected as a 5th/6th round pick. Now, supposedly this was a pretty “open” secret to media types who covered Missouri, so how much people were factoring this into their draft analysis, I don’t know. But regardless of sexual orientation, the guy really is small to be an NFL lineman. I do wish him luck as he handles himself well, has overcome a great deal, and certainly works very hard.

      • Cait says:

        I do as well (follow both college and the NFL – I went to a fairly large state university with a prominent football program) – his size has been discussed for a long time, but it wasn’t until this week that a lot of draft scouts and GM’s admitted that they’ve known about his sexuality for a while, and that it did impact his overall draft grade.

        He was never going to be a first rounder, sure. But unfortunately, we don’t know how much of his draft status has been impacted by advance knowledge of his sexual orientation – and that’s the crux of the issue, to me.

  11. GoodNamesAllTaken says:

    I admire him and wish him the very best.

  12. daisy says:

    I am very curious to see how this effects where he gets chosen in the draft. The NFL is notorious for forgiving women beaters, dog killers and drug users. So, let’s see… He seems like a beast on the football field and that’s all that should matter, but we’ll see. If it would help get my Eagles to a Super Bowl I don’t think even the most narrow minded people would care!

  13. Dawn says:

    I admire his courage but I really don’t think that the NFL or the NBA or MLB or Hockey are ready for their primetime players to admit to be gaying. The world is changing every day but I don’t think it has changed that much for these sports. I hope he gets drafted! Good luck!

  14. Tiffany says:

    So having a record a mile long of DUI’s, domestic violence, assault and drug use, eh, you are still a good football player. Being gay, yeah, I need to question your talent. Wow.

  15. name du jour says:

    Man, he has had a hard life. Good luck to him – I hope he wins a dozen Superbowls.

  16. Stef Leppard says:

    There’s only one openly gay NFL player??! How can that be? I had no idea we were still living in the dark ages. Men and their machismo. How ridiculous.

  17. Kim1 says:

    SI has a new article about how his draft stock has dropped.He can still go to NFL if he goes undrafted ,though.

  18. feebee says:

    It is disappointing to hear that his narrative has changed, but not unexpected. The NFL may not be ready for an openly gay player but a large part of the world will now be watching their reactions and actions. This will be an interesting time for them. I can just imagine some gritted teeth under the closed mouth smiles. Hope they don’t break a tooth.

    I wish all the best to Michael Sam and hope he has a long, successful, profitable and happy life and NFL career.

  19. stormyshay says:

    I thought this article below was just gross. I did not realize there was such homophobia in professional sports.

    http://m.si.com/3861060/what-nfl-execs-are-saying/

  20. Ag says:

    Good for him. I’m looking forward to watching him play in the NFL.

  21. Kim1 says:

    Michael just thanked FLOTUS for her tweet of support.

  22. drea says:

    Sam’s genuine acceptance among his teammates could come down to the locker room culture of the particular team that drafts him. Some retired players have talked about having (semi) closeted gay men as teammates and their locker rooms not caring. However, there are current players still giving interviews saying they don’t know how having a gay guy in the locker room would work. Well, now that Sam has come out to the world as a gay man, all of the NFL has been put on notice and the teams will have to adjust their PC levels, from the managerial level down.

    I wish him good luck, and hopefully, because of acts like this, the day when people won’t care about a player’s sexual orientation is not so far away.

  23. moo says:

    HEY EVERYONE……………….. I AM NOT GAY, BUT PLEASE DON’T HOLD THAT AGAINST ME!!!

  24. joan says:

    Wow. This brave guy comes out, and one commenter here takes the time to write that she doesn’t care, and another says it sounds like he has bad parenting.

    There’s such a lot of uninformed judgement going on these days and also a lot of inability to have compassion or — this is key — empathy.

    People who lack empathy can’t put themselves in another’s place, and we end up with road rage, kids shot at gas stations for loud music, people attacking a woman for saying her famous father molested her when she was 7, and attacking her mother, and attacking her brother.

    Lots of sociopathic stuff out there.

    But Michael Sam seems like a lovely guy. And what balls he’s got! Unlike the “anonymous NFL execs” afraid it’s “too soon.” They’ve got no balls.

  25. Soliloquily says:

    I live in Columbia, Missouri where MU is located, and most of us are extremely proud of Michael’ Sam’s decision to come out. For people saying that they don’t care or that it shouldn’t matter need to take a reality check. The reason why this is a big deal is because football is still HIGHLY homophobic. Sam has challenged the status quo and is daring the NFL to embrace tolerance and move into the 21st century.