Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam announces he is gay and aims to be the first openly gay athlete to play in the NFL.
A college football standout, poised to become a top NFL draft pick in May, announced Sunday that he’s gay and proud of it. Michael Sam, coming off an All-American season as a defensive lineman for the University of Missouri Tigers, said he knows well that coming clean about his sexual orientation is a “big deal.”
“I am an openly, proud gay man,” Sam, 24, last year’s Southeast Conference defensive player of the year, said in interviews with ESPN and the New York Times.
Darron Cummings/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Sam sings the Missouri fight song afetr the Tigers defeat Indiana, 45-28. Sam led the SEC with 10.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss.
Projected by some as an National Football League first-round draft pick, Sam would become the first openly gay professional football player.
“I understand how big this is,” Sam said. “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 is named a First Team All American.
The league issued a statement Sunday night backing Sam’s decision to go public.
“We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage,” the NFL said. “Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michal Sam in 2014.”
Michael Sam plays for the North in this year’s Senior Bowl.
No NFL player has ever publicly admitted being gay while still in the league. Several former players, including Kwame Harris and Esera Tuaolo, have come out after retiring.
Sam’s revelation comes less than a year after former New Jersey Nets basketball player Jason Collins announced he’s gay in a Sports Illustrated article. The 6-foot-2, 260-pound Sam, who led the Missouri Tigers to a 12-2 season and a Cotton Bowl win, revealed his secret to his coaches and teammates back in August.
Jeff Roberson/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Sam makes his announcement to the Times, ESPN and Sports Illustrated.
“Coaches just wanted to know a little about ourselves, our majors, where we’re from, and something that no one knows about you,” Sam said. “And I used that opportunity just to tell them that I was gay. And their reaction was like, ‘Michael Sam finally told us.’ ”
Sam said he was nervous about coming out, even though he was aware that many of his teammates and coaches already assumed he was gay.
“Just to see their reaction was awesome. They supported me from Day One,” Sam said. “I couldn’t have better teammates. . . . I’m telling you what: I wouldn’t have the strength to do this today if I didn’t know how much support they’d given me this past semester.”
Sam said he grew up in a small Texas town uncertain about his sexual orientation.
“I knew from a young age that I was attacted to guys,” Sam said. “I didn’t know if it was a phase . . . I didn’t want to say, ‘Hey, I might be gay. I might be bi.’ I just didn’t know . . . I wanted to find who I was and make sure I knew what was comfortable. So I didn’t tell anyone growing up.” Looking to the NFL, Sam said, “I just want to go to the team who drafts me because that team knows about me, knows that I’m gay, and also knows that I work hard. That’s the team I want to go to.”