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Missouri lineman set to be first openly gay NFL player

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, 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,” Sam said Sunday in an interview with The New York Times, the first time he spoke publicly about his sexual orientation.

Sam, a senior listed at 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds, went on to a stellar season for Missouri, which finished 12-2 and won the Cotton Bowl. He was named a first-team All-American. He was the defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference, widely considered the top league in college football. Teammates voted him Missouri’s most valuable player.

Now Sam enters an uncharted area of the sports landscape. He is making his public declaration before he is drafted, to the potential detriment to his professional career. And he is doing so as he prepares to enter a league with an overtly macho culture, where controversies over homophobia have attracted recent attention.

As the pace of the gay rights movement has accelerated drastically in recent years, the sports industry has seen relatively little change, with no publicly gay male athletes in the NFL, the NBA, the NHL or MLB. Against this backdrop, Sam could become a symbol for the country’s gay rights movement or a flashpoint in a football culture war - or both.

Sam, 24, is projected to be chosen in the early rounds of the NFL draft in May, ordinarily an invitation to a prosperous professional career. He said he decided to come out publicly now because he sensed that rumors were circulating.

“I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” said Sam, who also spoke with ESPN on Sunday. “I just want to own my truth.”

But the NFL presents the potential for unusual challenges. In the past year or so, the league has been embroiled in controversies ranging from anti-gay 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. And last week, Jonathan Vilma, a New Orleans Saints linebacker, said in an interview with the NFL Network that he did not want a gay teammate.

“I think he would not be accepted as much as we think he would be accepted,” said Vilma, who has played 10 seasons in the league.

In a statement Sunday night, the NFL said: “We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage. Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”

At a showcase game for college seniors last month, several scouts asked Sam’s agent, Joe Barkett, questions about whether Sam had a girlfriend or whether Barkett had seen him with women.

The league, which has a policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation (among other things), is the largest of the major sports leagues in the United States, with about 1,600 players on rosters at any time during the season. But it has never had a publicly gay player.

Over the decades, some players in the major sports leagues did little to conceal their sexual orientation, but they were not out to the public during their careers. A few players have come out upon retirement, like the NFL player Dave Kopay in the 1970s and the NBA player John Amaechi in 2007, both considered pioneers by many gay people.

Last spring, Jason Collins, a 12-year veteran of the NBA, mostly as a little-used reserve, came out after the season. A free agent, he has not been signed by another team.

Also last year, the soccer player Robbie Rogers, a former member of the U.S. national team who later played professionally in England, revealed that he was gay after he announced his retirement. Encouraged by the supportive response, he resumed his career, playing for the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer.

Although Sam’s professional prospects are far from certain, several NFL draft forecasters have predicted that he will be chosen in the third round. (Thirty-two players are selected in each round.) Rarely are players who are drafted that high cut by teams, and often they become starters, sometimes in their rookie year.

Between now and the draft, Sam plans to attend the scouting combine, where players are put through a gantlet of physical and mental tests to judge their readiness for the NFL. Sam might be considered too small for a professional defensive end, meaning he would have to learn to play as an outside linebacker.

But it is reasonable for Sam to wonder what sort of impact - positive or negative - his declaration will have on his professional prospects.

“I’m not naïve,” Sam said. “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 NFL.”

Sam said he graduated from Missouri in December, the only member of his family to attend college. He grew up in Hitchcock, Texas, near the Gulf Coast about 40 miles southeast of Houston, the seventh of eight children of JoAnn and Michael Sam. It was a difficult childhood; three of his siblings have died, and two brothers are in prison, Sam said. He was raised mostly by his mother, and he spent some years with another family who took him in. All have been supportive of his coming out, Sam said.

Sam said he began to wonder if he was gay in his early teens, though he had a girlfriend in high school. It was after he arrived at Missouri in 2009 that he realized for certain that he was gay.

Teammates increasingly suspected as much, and some knew that he dated a man on the university’s swim team, but it never prevented Sam from being one of the most popular players on the team. He was known for his intensity on the field and his booming voice off it.

“When I first met him, you could be downstairs and you could hear Mike all the way on the second floor of the dorms,” said Missouri wide receiver L’Damian Washington, who met Sam on a recruiting trip and quickly became a close friend. “He’s just a loud guy. Everybody knows when Michael Sam is in the building.”

Sam came out to two of his friends on the team, Washington and Marvin Foster, about a year ago. It was not a huge surprise. Washington was with Sam when Sam said he needed to go pick up a friend. He told Washington that the friend was gay and asked Washington if that would bother him. Washington said no, and Sam came out to him.

Last April, the Missouri athletic administration held diversity seminars for all athletes, part of the You Can Play project, focused largely on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. Sam was one of several athletes to approach Pat Ivey, Missouri’s associate athletic director for athletic performance, to compliment him for the lesson. But Sam was the most effusive, Ivey said, as if trying to tell Ivey something.

“When Mike finished the conversation, he said, ‘Coach, I know I can play,’” Ivey recalled. “And we kind of had an understanding of each other, that this wasn’t just him saying, ‘Good job.’ This was him saying: ‘Coach, I’m involved in it. I’m a part of what we just discussed.’”

During practices in August, Missouri mixed players from different position groups on the team and put them into small meetings of eight or 10. Washington, a wide receiver, happened to be in the same group as Sam.

“I knew that something was about to come because of the way he was balling up the paper in his hands,” Washington recalled. “He kept rolling it up. So I kind of knew something was coming, but I didn’t think it was that.”

Sam was a senior and longtime friend to other team leaders. Younger players looked up to him. But on a team with about 100 players, of different ages, backgrounds and beliefs, there were varying levels of discomfort.

“I think there were, just like in society, there are people who don’t understand, and don’t want to understand, and aren’t accepting,” Ivey said. “And we worked through those issues.”

Sam played down any repercussions, saying he had the full support of teammates, coaches and administrators. One teammate, he said, accompanied him to a gay pride event in St. Louis last summer, and others went with him to gay bars.

“Some people actually just couldn’t believe I was actually gay,” Sam said. “But I never had a problem with my teammates. Some of my coaches were worried, but there was never an issue.”

One lingering issue, Washington said, was trying to get players to change their casual language in the locker room. Loosely lobbed homophobic remarks suddenly had a specific sting.

Sam played down that. For him, coming out to his football team was a positive step, on a path that seems as if it will lead to the NFL.

“Once I became official to my teammates, I knew who I was,” Sam said. “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.”

No one asked.

“I guess they don’t want to ask a 6-3, 260-pound defensive lineman if he was gay or not,” Sam said. And he laughed.

Posted to: National Sports Sports

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history made

The first openly gay player in the NFL.

Courageous young man.

He is not the first.

He is not the first.

My mistake, it was the NBA.

My mistake, it was the NBA.

Every reason

There was every reason for him to come out. As a human being living in the US, he has the right, even the duty to live to his full potential. That includes the right to form honest friendships and loving relationships. You cannot do this when hiding and denying who you are. He also calls us to a higher duty: to respect others even if we don't agree with them.

Just looking to set up a payday

When he doesn't get drafted. There was no reason for him to come out at all. What he (or anyone else does ) behind closed doors is their own and nobody else's business. But now he'll claim he was a victim of discrimination.

He is no longer behind

He is no longer behind closed doors. He opened them.

Try again.

Why don't you try reading about this young man? He sounds like a true leader with great character. With regard to him not getting drafted, have you read the largely positive response from NFL insiders:

http://deadspin.com/heres-how-the-nfl-reacted-to-michael-sam-coming-out-1519612068

First open, not the first gay

Multiple players who played for Vince Lombardi, the legendary former Packers and Redskins coach, say that he knew some of his players were gay, and that not only did he not have a problem with it, but he went out of his way to make sure no one else on his team would make it a problem.
http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/05/03/vince-lombardi-accepted-gay-players-on-his-team/

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powder puff

Missouri.

The show me state.

Show me more than I really needed to see as is in this case.

Powder Puff?

I'd like to see you say that to Michael Sam's face. He's a 250 lb DL, and the SEC defensive player of the year. Powder puff...give me a break.

Playing football is a terrible lifestyle choice

It's unnatural and not endorsed in the Bible. Also, playing football badly injures every participant, which goes a long way toward violating the commandment "Thou shall not kill."

ok

Really, who cares if this guy is gay and plays football?

Please, enough is enough

Who the freak cares! Enough is enough...if someone wants to be gay then so be it. I don't see anyone running around introducing themselves as being heterosexual.

And by the way, God created man with three needs, Shelter, Sustenance, and the "ability" to Procreate. No procreation, no mankind.

Yeah, for sure,

3% to 6% of us not procreating surely means the extinction of our species.

Oh yeah, I forgot, some of us have procreated...maybe the percentage is down to 2 to 3.

Can you find an argument that isn't hyperbole?

oh yeah

I forgot. When I see you on the street I can't tell you're heterosexual even though you're holding hands with a woman. So I'll just assume you're gay....problem solved.

Congratulations

It takes courage to be the first anything! He's gonna be a pretty good situational player in the NFL, but he's obviously a brave man already!

This is the short list of

This is the short list of gay sports figures.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_lesbian,_gay,_bisexual,_and_transgender_sportspeople

Really?

Why is this newsworthy??

Because it will result in

Because it will result in hundreds of nasty messages from the immoral moralists, tunnel-visored bible thumpers, hapless homophobes and con contrarians which the pilot can then translate into web traffic statistics and, they hope, into advertising dollars

Not Worthy

SICKENING !

check all that apply,

check all that apply, "immoral moralists, tunnel-visored bible thumpers, hapless homophobes and con contrarians"

And this is news how? Big

And this is news how? Big deal. This guy's sexual orientation is his business.

Another slow day at the national sports news desk.

Look, I'm pro-equality and I

Look, I'm pro-equality and I can't wait for the day that this is no longer news. However, it is most certainly news TODAY, and until there is full equality for all Americans, things like this will continue to be news. This young man is doing a big part to break down a barrier...that you either can't be gay and play sports, or you must lie and hide who you are.

Gay athletes have been out

Gay athletes have been out of the closet for years. This is not an earth shattering announcement.

If I am not mistaken, the

If I am not mistaken, the first college football player of any kind to come out was a Division II college kicker in January of this year.

I wouldn't call it earth shattering.

However, it is significant. Sure, there are out gay athletes, but Sam will be the first openly gay NFL player. One day that won't be a big deal, but it is today.

Who cares?

When someone introduces themselves, should they, right then and there declare their sexual preference? Who cares? Why is it anyone's business? What goes on behind closed doors should stay behind closed doors.

Do you feel the same way

Do you feel the same way about wedding rings?

Yes, I do.

I don't think I should be judging. I have my hands full tending to my own life, sweeping my own porch without sticking my nose into others affairs.

College football has openly

College football has openly delcared its judgment that gays are unwanted in their sport. Sam is similarly openly declaring his right to participate as a member of gay society. He did not start this banter.

When and how did college

When and how did college football make this declaration? Who was their spokesperson?

SI: Football is known as a

SI: Football is known as a "macho" sport. LSU player Alfred Blue said it is "this aggressive sport that grown men are supposed to play. So if you gay, we look at you as a sissy." When the day comes a college player comes out, it will fall on coaches to foster an accepting environment.

The environment existing in football makes it difficult to come out. Heterosexuality is flaunted & gay slurs are used in the locker room. NFL player Mark Schlereth said slurs were not necessarily gay bashing. It's just the way it is." 49ers Chris Culliver was asked if any gay players were on his team to which he replied, "No, we don't got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do."

SI: Football is known as a

SI: Football is known as a "macho" sport.

One cannot honestly disagree with that statement. Can they?

Nor can one honestly

Nor can one honestly disagree with their other observations, or those who play the game.

Well you have cleared it up.

Frankly, I have known hundreds of individuals that are "macho". I have also known and observed "macho" men. Who, and where did you learn your definition of "macho" and "man"? What is important is "c-h-a-r-a-c-t-o-r". It would be nice if everyone put more emphasis on that than what a person does that is really nobody's business.

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So it was not actually

So it was not actually college football that made this declaration, but rather individual college football players via a sports magazine whose goal is to sell magazines. I don't doubt that there are many college football players who share the attitude of the players you cite, but it's unfair to paint them all, or perhaps even most of them with that brush. Doing so is called stereotyping, something the gay community is anathema to.

The environment you describe in football is not particularly one that I remember as a football player even in college. But I am older now and perhaps the environment on your teams was different.

Keep those blinders on. If

Keep those blinders on. If you're looking for a proclamation from the NCAA that gays are not permitted to participate in college football, you will not find it. They are not stupid enough to open themselves up to a lawsuit. I would not have thought you to sink to that level either.

I don't understand your last

I don't understand your last sentence. I was pointing out that you have sensationalized the issue with your prior comment that college football has declared. That isn't true. Suggesting that it is is wrong. I absolutely support this guy in what he has done and hope it will somehow help with acceptance. You have judged me and my views on this topic based on a question I asked you -- exactly what you complain others are doing to the gay community unfairly.

Similar stories abound. The

Similar stories abound.

The Ole Miss student newspaper reported that members of the football team were required to watch a theatrical play designed to increase tolerance of the gay community. “The Laramie Project” showcases the short life and painful death of Matthew Sheppard who was brutally murdered while attending the University of Wyoming.

The Ole Miss football players disrupted the performance by shouting out gay slurs and using terms like “fag*ot.” They also made disparaging remarks about performers’ body types.

The situation is “under investigation” by school officials. The team was forced to write a letter of apology.

Matthew Sheppard who was

Matthew Sheppard who was brutally murdered while attending the University of Wyoming.

The uncomfortable truth relates to the fact that Sheppard was murdered by his gay lover.

The uncomfortable truth is

The uncomfortable truth is that once again you show to the world you know not of what you speak.

I urge you do perform a

I urge you do perform a little research, rather than to continuing to embarrass yourself.

(Many leftists live in the realm of mythology)

get three coffins ready: ...people would do well to...

...listen to you. The myth of the trial was created by the defense lawyers in an effort to free their clients. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/12/stephen-jimenez-matthew-shepard_n_3914707.html

So easy for some to get

So easy for some to get caught up in the hate. You would both do well to read the conservative Wall Street Journal review of the Book of Matt:

"Much of Mr. Jimenez's case rests on circumstantial evidence; his reportorial style is heavily dependent upon conjecture and cloak-and-dagger insinuation. Early on, he concedes that he has "occasionally employed methods that are slightly less stringent to re-create the dialogue of characters." According to him, "it seems very likely that [Shepard] found himself caught between rival [drug] operators." Friends of Shepard's "surmised" that "he may also have known too much" about the drug trade. "The Book of Matt" reads more like a Mountain West "Rashomon" than a conclusive journalistic brief."

lakewood1923: nope. not hardly...

...hate tag, you're it!!! It's a convenient myth, while the murder of Jesse Dirkhising is completely ignored by the real haters.

You and Coffins have latched

You and Coffins have latched on to a near fictional account, and cite it as fact notwithstanding its denunciation by respected conservative publications sch as the Wall Street Journal. It is telling that the only media outlets lending support to Jiminez are the likes of breitbart.com. You label the continued accepted factual analysis by law enforcement and judicial officials as "myth." How might you best characterize such motivation of unsubstantiated comments?

Janet1926: ....prove it....

...ABC News reported in 2004 the hate crime aspect was a lie. http://abcn.ws/1jrAYoW And, explain your knowledge of the murder of Jesse Dirkhising while you're at it.

1. There is absolutely

1. There is absolutely nothing in your cited 20/20 report dealing in any manner with Coffin's assertion "that Sheppard was murdered by his gay lover."

2. The 20/20 report is admittedly based entirely on the account of 2 convicted murderers without any factual corroboration.

3. The Rreport does not purport to be a news story.

4. The Report comes to no conclusion one way or another as to whether the account of the convicted killers might have any veracity.

5 The Report most certainly does not state the hate crime aspect was a lie.

Learn to read.

janet1926: ...so you're still ignoring Jesse Dirkhising...

...the 13 year old boy who was kidnapped, raped, and tortured for two days then murdered by two homosexual men? The point of the "cause celebre" of the Matthew Shepard case is false: his murder was a crime totally unrelated to his sexuality. Period. If people are going to pick a cause celebre, they need to tell the truth. They haven't in the Sheppard case. It's been falsely turned into a legend. While the case of Jesse Dirkhising, which is true, goes totally ignored by you and other posters who clearly have an agenda, an agenda based on falsehoods. Have a nice day. You're not helping the cause of gay rights at all, you're hurting it.

Catch up

that was 10 years ago and is not relevant any longer.

Catch up

that was 10 years ago and is not relevant any longer.

Catch up

that was 10 years ago and is not relevant any longer.

IT SEEMS TO BE

conservatives who want to believe it was not a hate crime because Matthew was gay, but because of drugs. There is that book that is out by someone named Jimenez, I think...and most of the info I have read it is all conservatives who want to believe that, because, as you know, they are the ones who perpetuate who usually perpetuate violence against gays. Anyway, this might be interesting to you, if you have not already read it.

http://thinkprogress.org/alyssa/2013/10/18/2802871/book-matt-prove-size-stephen-jimenezs-ego/

So you are against people

So you are against people wearing wedding rings because you find it distasteful that they reveal aspects of their personal life in public?

Who cares? For democrats, it

Who cares?

For democrats, it has become the most important "issue" of this era.

So aptly put by one who

So aptly put by one who could give a rat's behind about any social issue of this era.

But that's the Tea Party

But that's the Tea Party mantra - "I don't care about anybody or anything as long as you keep your hands out of my pocket."

That's right. If you respect

That's right. If you respect my rights, I will respect yours.

But that is asking too much from you, isn't it?

I believe that the so-called

I believe that the so-called "social issues" should be determined by individuals - not by governments.

I don't care if you are asexual, bisexual, homosexual, multi-sexual, or heterosexual. So long as it doesn't involve children, animals or force, just do "it" and keep the government out of it.

get three coffins ready: ...it's just another diversion. ..

...from the issue of the president of the United States openly breaking the law on Obamacare, again. The modern-day Tories need something else to talk about as they excuse away the most egregious and illegal behavior by the President.

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