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All-American Football Player Michael Sam Announces He’s Gay

Michael Sam Missouri
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

In multiple interviews released Sunday night, Michael Sam, an All-American defensive end at the University of Missouri, announced that he was gay, setting him up to be the first openly homosexual player in the NFL, should he be selected in May’s draft.

Sam is expected to be drafted as highly as the third round following a stellar 2013 season in which recorded 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for a loss, leading the Associated Press to name him the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year. He had already come out to his teammates at Missouri at the start of the season; now he has gone fully public, in interviews with The New York Times and ESPN’s ‘Outside the Lines.’

The NFL may become the first of the four major American sports leagues to have an openly gay player. Prior to the 2013-2014 season, NBA player Jason Collins revealed his sexual identity, but the 12-year veteran remains a free agent awaiting a team to sign him. Sam’s future in the NFL is uncertain, but he will most likely be drafted and may even start for a team next season. For now, though, his goal is to prepare for the training events in which scouts gather to watch and grade players for their teams.

“I’m not naïve,” Mr. Sam told the Times. “I know this is a huge deal and I know how important this is. But my role as of right now is to train for the combine and play in the N.F.L.”

He added to 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.”

Sam has received support from his college teammates, who voted him the team’s most valuable player, and his coach. On Monday the NFL Players Association President Dominique Foxworth offered his encouragement, saying, “I know that the union will accept him with open arms, as will our players.”

The Hitchcock, Texas, native grew up the seventh-youngest of eight siblings, and it was not an easy childhood:

I endured so much in my past. Seeing my older brother killed from a gunshot wound, not knowing that my oldest sister died when she was a baby and I never got the chance to meet her. My second oldest brother went missing in 1998, and me and my little sister were the last ones to see him … my other two brothers have been in and out of jail since eighth grade, currently both in jail.

Telling the world I’m gay is nothing compared to that.

The 22-year-old looks forward to hunting down NFL quarterbacks just as he has the last four years at Missouri. As for the inevitable reaction that has begun since his announcement, he seems to be handling things quite calmly. “I’m not afraid to tell the world who I am,” he said. “I’m Michael Sam. I’m a college graduate. I’m African American, and I’m gay. I’m comfortable in my skin.”

[N.Y. Times, ESPN]

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