Michael Sam could become the NFL’s first openly gay player

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Michael Sam, a defensive lineman for the University of Missouri Tigers, came out as gay on Sunday, February 9; the hero of his team’s victory against Oklahoma State in the 2014 Cotton Bowl, Sam is a probable first pick for this May’s NFL draft. If selected, he would be the first openly gay active player in the National Football League.

Video below.

Sam says he came out to his teammates in August 2013 during a team-building exercise where coaches asked players to talk about themselves.

“I looked in their eyes, and they just started shaking their heads—like, finally, he came out,” Sam told the New York Times. It was the first time he had spoken to them about his orientation.

As first-team all-American and Associated Press defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference, Sam was also voted most valuable player by his teammates.

“I am an openly, proud gay man,” said the 24-year-old.

In a super-macho environment often plagued with homophobia, Sam’s choice to come out as a gay football player before the draft is a momentous decision, important not just in LGBT history but sports history as well.

“I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” said Sam. “I just want to own my truth.”

The 6 foot, 2 inch, 260-pound linebacker added in an interview with ESPN, “I understand how big this is. 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.”

Openly gay athletes are pioneering a new era in our country, forging a path for young LGBT people by breaking down stereotypes. Brian Kitts, co-founder of the You Can Play Project—a campaign to end homophobia in sports—says Sam’s announcement is imperative to the evolving environment of professional sports.

“Michael is an example of rapidly changing attitude in sports as a gay athlete who, by providing an honest relationship with his teammates, has been accepted by his peers at Missouri,” Kitts told 429Magazine. “In return he has proven himself to be a terrific athlete. Athletes like Michael are the future of professional sports—honest, skilled, and open. You Can Play is proud to support him and the coaches and teammates at Missouri who have made this possible.”

On January 4, the University of Missouri partnered with the You Can Play Project to release a video about diversity and inclusion for all athletes and fans, including those who are LGBT.

While homophobia in professional sports is certainly still present, Sam’s announcement is an important counterstrike to anti-LGBT sentiments and statements. Last year, in the days surrounding the 2013 Super Bowl, Chris Culliver of the San Francisco 49ers’ came under fire after he made anti-gay statements during a radio interview:

“I don’t do the guys,” Culliver said. “I don’t do that. We don’t have any gays on the team. They gotta get up outta here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff.”

While his comments were depraving, ultimately they led to an awakening—discussion of orientation, sports, and the stereotypes that surround the two began making rounds in the media. In April, Jason Collins became the first openly gay NBA player.

“We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage,” the NFL said in a statement. “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.”

On February 9, Sam wrote several gracious Tweets to his 55,000-plus followers:

Sam finished the 2013 season with 48 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, 2 passive breakups, 9 quarterback hurries, 2 forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. Prior to his announcement, it was predicted he would be picked as high as the third round. According to the Washington Post, the draft will now focus its attention on whether or not Sam’s coming out will affect his draft stock.

The NFL draft is set to begin on Thursday, May 8. 

429Magazine

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