Former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam announced that he was gay Sunday, an unprecedented step for professional and collegiate athletics.
I am a openly, proud gay man. I want to be a football player in the NFL.
— Michael Sam (@MichaelSam52) February 10, 2014
If you don’t remember, Sam, a 6-foot-2, 260-pound All-American for the Tigers, sacked OSU quarterback Clint Chelf in the Cotton Bowl and stripped the ball. Teammate Shane Ray recovered the fumble and went 73 yards for the clinching score. Sam, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, is projected to be a third- or fourth-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. One would hope his announcement wouldn’t change his draft stock.
SI.com’s Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans wrote that some teams may have already downgraded Sam because of his sexual orientation. Where Sam gets drafted may not be as significant as the impact his announcement will have for other gay athletes living in secrecy, particularly in the NFL.
(An interesting note: As pointed out to me by our own Gina Mizell, Sam had a self-imposed media ban through the majority of the season, finally lifting it in the run-up to the Cotton Bowl. According to the New York Times, Sam came out to his teammates in August).
Sam’s announcement drew plenty of support on Twitter Sunday night:
Michael Sam was one of the most friendly guys at the Senior Bowl. Happy that he can live his life honestly and happily. — Gabe Ikard (@GabeIkard) February 10, 2014
Our coaches and players knew all along about this and noone said anything. Just show the amount of respect we have for our family. — Kentrell Brothers✈✈ (@Kentrell_Mizzou) February 10, 2014
So much a part of the Michael Sam story is season-long support of his teammates. Gives lie to all the bs of “locker room distraction.”
— Dave Zirin (@EdgeofSports) February 10, 2014
That is the real question: The teammates of Michael Sam will be there for him. Will the NFL front offices offer him the same opportunity?
“I don’t think I should be defined as Michael Sam – the gay football player,” he told The New York Times. “I want to be defined for being a great person with great character.”