Micheal Sam, a standout defensive end at Missouri this season, became the first athlete in a major American sport to reveal that he is gay before even beginning his professional career:
Coaches at the University of Missouri divided players into small groups at a preseason football practice last year for a team-building exercise. One by one, players were asked to talk about themselves — where they grew up, why they chose Missouri and what others might not know about them.
As Michael Sam, a defensive lineman, began to speak, he balled up a piece of paper in his hands. “I’m gay,” he said. With that, Mr. Sam set himself on a path to become the first publicly gay player in the National Football League.
“I looked in their eyes, and they just started shaking their heads — like, finally, he came out,” Mr. Sam said Sunday in an interview with The New York Times, the first time he had spoken publicly about his sexual orientation.
What this revelation will do to his draft prospects remains to be seen. Presently, CBS Sports ranks him as the ninth best defensive end prospect. There is some question as to whether he is big enough to be an NFL defensive end, and some speculation that he could be switched to outside linebacker. But his coming out could represent a large intangible in a league where there has been more than one controversy surrounding the question of gay players in recent years:
But the N.F.L. presents the potential for unusual challenges. In the past year or so, it has been embroiled in controversies ranging from antigay statements from players to reports that scouts asked at least one prospective player if he liked girls. Recently, Chris Kluwe, a punter, said that he was subject to homophobic language from coaches and pushed out of a job with the Minnesota Vikings because he vocally supported same-sex marriage laws.
One positive sign is - for what it’s worth - this entirely unscientific ESPN poll showing more than 2/3’s support for an openly gay player in the NFL.
Part of Michael Sam’s interview with ESPN’s Chris Connelly can be seen here.
I think what he’s done is great. He comes off as having the maturity and wisdom to know that being openly gay in the NFL could be a tough row to hoe, and hopefully he will be an inspiration for other gay players in all sports to follow suit.