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Meet the NFL’s First Openly Gay (Soon-to-Be) Player

Meet the NFL’s First Openly Gay (Soon-to-Be) Player

There’s never been an openly gay professional player in any of America’s four major sports leagues (baseball, basketball, hockey, and football), but it looks like that’s about to change now that a talented, NFL-bound player announced to the world that he’s gay. On Sunday, University of Missouri’s Michael Sam declared himself an “openly proud gay man”, making steps toward destroying homophobic stigma that persists in sports culture.

Sam, a defensive lineman, showed a lot of poise during his television interview, perhaps because it wasn’t his first coming out. At the beginning of his senior year, Sam acknowledged his sexuality to his college teammates. “I wouldn’t have the strength to do this today if I didn’t know how much support they’d give me this past semester.”

While former pro players have acknowledged their sexuality after retiring, Sam would be the first to be out while actively playing. Some have questioned Sam’s decision to come out publicly before the NLF draft, but his prior openness about his sexuality necessitated the move. Because his orientation was no longer a secret to his teammates and even NFL scouts, Sam was tipped off that his story was likely to be publicized soon, so he decided to take center stage a little earlier than he anticipated. He said, “I was afraid that it would leak out without me actually owning my truth.”

Despite the enormity of his announcement (“I understand how big this is,” Sam acknowledged), he hoped to also keep some focus on his athletic accomplishments. After helping to lead his team to a victory at the Cotton Bowl, he was named a first team all-American and defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference, college football’s most competitive league.

Previous to Sam coming out, sports experts predicted that he would be an early to mid-round draft pick. It’s hard to say how Sam’s admission will affect the selection, but it’s difficult to imagine that every team would pass him up given his talent. Now that his sexuality is open knowledge, hopefully a team that is more accepting of his identity will select him.

Last year, punter Chris Kluwe alleges he was let go by the Minnesota Vikings after becoming an outspoken gay rights advocate. Kluwe, who isn’t gay, says he faced discrimination by certain members of the coaching staff just for supporting the cause. As for Sam, his agent, Joe Barkett, admits that multiple scouts had inquired whether Sam had a girlfriend, indicating that his sexuality may be a concern to certain teams.

For what it’s worth, the NFL is not shying away from the issue. The pro sport organization released an official statement following Sam’s announcement: “We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage. Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”

Even if there are obstacles, it’s nothing Sam hasn’t already dealt with at college.  Though Sam claims his teammates have “supported [him] from day one,” some of these teammates admitted that not everyone was as immediately accepting. It also took a while for the homophobic banter that was normally tossed around the locker room to dissipate.

However, as Sam’s coach, Gary Pinkel, said, “He’s taught a lot of people here firsthand 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.” Sam’s teammates even came around to the point where they would visit gay bars or gay pride events with him. They liked and respected Sam enough to also name him their team’s Most Valuable Player.

Hopefully, Sam will continue to break down barriers and – with his winning moves both on and off the field – help to eliminate homophobia in professional sports.

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Photo Credit: Marcus Qwertyus

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124 comments

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4:33AM PST on Feb 25, 2014

Why do they need to "come out"? I don't care if a person is gay, keep it to yourself!

12:09PM PST on Feb 19, 2014

Here is a link to the news video
http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/02/16/students-form-wall-around-missouri-stadium-to-block-westboro-protest-against-gay-player/

12:08PM PST on Feb 19, 2014

This is awesome. Students protest against Westboro Baptist in favor of Michael Sam. Things just keep looking up.

6:11AM PST on Feb 18, 2014

Brave guy. The super-macho world of team sports is so homophobic. The very best of luck to him.

2:03PM PST on Feb 17, 2014

My very best wishes to him on his journey.

This really shouldn't be discussed as he or she should be able to do, in this case, any sport without trials and tribulations without en mass judgement in any way shape or form.

We live in 2014, for goodness sake!

8:45AM PST on Feb 16, 2014

ty

7:28AM PST on Feb 16, 2014

Well, it's about time!

2:11AM PST on Feb 16, 2014

Thanks

1:51PM PST on Feb 15, 2014

Thank you.

11:03AM PST on Feb 15, 2014

john h.
I had the same concern at first, but I have been reading an awful lot of positive tweets and such from pro football players, congratulating him and giving him encouragement and support. Those players that have a problem might find themselves in the minority very soon. His team at Missouri accepted him quite well. I would imagine that any players that have a problem will be pulled aside for a talk. The reality is that the pro players have been in locker rooms enough years that they have already shared a shower with a gay man before more than likely, More than likely starting in high school or junior high. Most Gay men don't even pay any more notice in a shower than the straight guys do. It isn't quite the same for gay men and women as it is for straight men and women. The other guys in the shower don't have anything that they have not seen many times before. Besides despite what some straight people think...Most gay people are simply not interested in trying to get with straight people. It simply isn't worth the effort or time, They are straight after all.

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