With MVP-level courage and honesty, pro-football prospect Michael Sam is already a first-round pick in our books. Ahead of May's NFL draft, the 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year has publicly come out as gay. Notably, he may be the first openly gay athlete in professional football.
“I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” the 24-year-old University of Missouri graduate says in the video clip above. “I just want to own my truth.” Though Sam, a native of Hitchcock, Texas, had come out to his Tiger teammates last August, he held back from acknowledging his sexuality to the public. Indeed, scouts had been asking his agent if he had a girlfriend.
“Once I became official to my teammates, I knew who I was,” he says. “I knew that I was gay. And I knew that I was Michael Sam, who’s a Mizzou football player who happens to be gay. I was so proud of myself and I just didn’t care who knew. If someone on the street would have asked me, ‘Hey, Mike, I heard you were gay. Is that true?’ I would have said yes. I guess they don’t want to ask a 6-foot-3, 260-pound defensive lineman if he [is] gay or not."
So far, the response has been encouraging, including this statement directly from the NFL: "We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage...Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”
Of course, it's worth noting that homophobic attitudes have been rampant in sports culture. Perhaps that's why other players have waited until near the end of their careers to come out, as was the case with former NBA star Jason Collins. If Sam makes it through the draft — and it's highly likely he will — he'll be the only out player in the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB combined. (MLS soccer player Robbie Rogers came out last year). Professional athletes are already role models to so many, let's hope openness, honesty, and courage become as tantamount to the profession as brawn and skill. (New York Times)