Missouri All-American Michael Sam said he is gay, and the defensive end could become the first openly gay player in the NFL.
In interviews with ESPN, The New York Times and Outsports that were
published Sunday, Sam said he came out to his teammates and coaches at
Missouri in August.
"I am an openly, proud gay man," he said.
Sam will participate in the NFL combine later this month in
Indianapolis and is currently projected to be a mid-round NFL draft pick
"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," he told ESPN.
The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Sam participated in the Senior Bowl in
Mobile, Ala., last month after leading the Southeastern Conference in
sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (19). He was the SEC Defensive Player
of the Year.
There have been a few NFL players who have come out after their
playing days, including Kwame Harris and Dave Kopay. Last year, NBA
player Jason Collins announced he was gay after the season. Collins, a
35-year-old backup center, was a free agent when he came out and has not
signed with a team this season. MLS star and U.S. national team player
Robbie Rogers came out a year ago.
"His courage will inspire millions to live their truth," Rogers tweeted.
"We admire Michael Sam's honesty and courage,"
the NFL said in 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."
Sam's announcement comes at a time when gay rights issues and
sports have collided at the Olympics. Russia's anti-gay law has received
much attention and criticism because of the games.
"By rewriting the script for countless young athletes, Michael has
demonstrated the leadership that, along with his impressive skills on
the field, makes him a natural fit for the NFL," said Sarah Kate Ellis,
president of GLAAD, a leading lesbian gay, bisexual and transgender
advocacy organization. "With acceptance of LGBT people rising across our
coasts — in our schools, churches, and workplaces — it's clear that
America is ready for an openly gay football star."
Sam said many people at the Senior Bowl seemed to know he was gay.
"I didn't realize how many people actually knew, and I was afraid
that someone would tell or leak something out about me," he told ESPN.
"I want to own my truth. ... No one else should tell my story but me."
Sam told the Times he dated a man on the Missouri swim team and
came out to teammates L'Damian Washington and Marvin Foster about a year
ago before letting the whole team know during last preseason.
"Coaches just wanted to know a little about ourselves, our majors,
where we're from, and something that no one knows about you," Sam told
ESPN. "And I used that opportunity just to tell them that I was gay. And
their reaction was like, ‘Michael Sam finally told us.' "
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said in a statement Sunday that he was proud of Sam and how he represented the program.
"Michael is a great example of just how important it is to be
respectful of others, he's taught a lot of people here first-hand 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," Pinkel said.
"If Michael doesn't have the support of his teammates like he did this
past year, I don't think there's any way he has the type of season he