The 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year and former Missouri defensive lineman, Michael Sam, came out in an interview with the New York Times. He is the first openly gay player to enter the NFL Draft. Should it be news that a player admits their sexuality in an open forum? Of course, in this day and age, it should not matter at all, but in NFL circles this is news. It has never happened before so in one way Michael Sam is breaking new ground.
He told the New York Times that he came out earlier in 2013 to his Missouri teammates during a team building exercise. When asked to explain his teammates reactions, he stated:
“I looked in their eyes, and they just started shaking their heads — like, finally, he came out.”
When asked in a separate interview with ESPN, why he chose now to come out Michael talked about rumors that had been swirling and honestly stated:
“I didn’t realize how many people actually knew, and I was afraid that someone would tell or leak something out about me,” he said. “I want to own my truth. … No one else should tell my story but me.”
Mr. Sam is not projected to go in the first round but is still nevertheless expected to be a high draft pick. Of course there is still the NFL combine but when you were the 2013 AP SEC Defensive Player of the Year and listed at 6′ 2″, 260 pounds as a defensive lineman than you are bound to be taken high.
NFL locker rooms are not places for the timid or weak of conviction. Just look at the Miami Dolphins locker room fiasco of this past season to see what I mean. Michael Sam does not appear to be that type of person. By all accounts it appears this is a man full of high moral fiber, caliber and conviction. Instead of trying to hide who he was, like many players in the past have done, he attacked it head on even before he was drafted.
In fact, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel even chimed in on the news saying:
“We’re really happy for Michael that he’s made the decision to announce this, and we’re proud of him and how he represents Mizzou. 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.”
Those words are echoed by almost anyone questioned about Michael Sam. So what does that tell me? In a shocking revelation, apparently you can be a gay man and still be an upstanding member of the community with a hard work ethic and dreams. Hopefully you can sense the sarcasm in the previous statement. Clearly that is the case and occurs all over this country every day. It is time for the locker room of whichever NFL team drafts Michael to accept the reality and embrace the quality of football player and human being standing with them.
I for one applaud Michael Sam for coming out and not worrying about the future. It should not matter if he is gay just like it doesn’t matter if a player is black or white. Is it that simple? Will a locker room mindset change overnight? Probably not and many will talk about showers, the locker room mentality and many other excuses but being gay is not a disease. You cannot catch it. It is who you are. If members of the US Armed Forces can stand side by side, gay or straight, and defend this country then surely NFL players can manage to get along in luxury locker rooms and on private jets. For their sake it hope that is the case.
One last comment from Michael Sam pretty much says it all:
“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.”