DENVER — The story broke precisely at 6 p.m, as ESPN and the New York Times simultaneously published a story that sent immediate shockwaves across the country — former University of Missouri linebacker Michael Sam, an NFL prospect likely to be drafted this April in the early rounds, came out as gay.
Sam, 24, stated what his teammates confirmed back in August: “I am an openly, proud gay man.”
He said he told his Missouri teammates in August and suffered no repercussions. He said he was surprised to discover many people in the media already knew he was gay.
“I understand how big this is,” Sam said in the ESPN interview. “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.”
At 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds, Sam starred in college football last season. Besides being first team All-American, he was named the top defensive player in the Southeastern Conference, considered the nation’s best league. Teammates named him the team’s most valuable player.
With those credentials, he’s expected to be picked in the NFL draft in May.
The NFL issued a statement on Twitter Sunday: “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.”
Assuming he is drafted, Sam would become the first openly gay player in the NFL.
Shortly after the news broke, Sam took to Twitter:
I would like to thank my family, teammates, and coaches. I am not afraid.
— Michael Sam (@MichaelSam52) February 10, 2014
While many prominent gay and lesbian personalities also took to social media to express their support for Sam, a Sports Illustrated article also appeared in which a number of NFL executives, speaking anonymously, speculated that his courageous admission could hurt his prospects in the league.
“I don’t think football is ready for (an openly gay player) just yet,” an NFL player personnel assistant told the magazine. “In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game. To call somebody a (gay slur) is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”
Among those offering their support was Colorado Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, the first gay lawmaker to hold that post, who took to Twitter to praise Sam for his courage.
— Mark Ferrandino (@MarkFerrandino) February 10, 2014
Sam, who came out to his teammates in August, went on to lead Missouri to an SEC West division championship in 2013 and to be named conference defensive player of the year.
He reportedly decided to come out now to give teams a chance to consider him completely, as a player and a man, prior to the draft.
As detailed in an exclusive story by the website outsports.com, Sam’s coming out has been a few months in the making and orchestrated by a team of agents and advisors.
In that story, publicist Howard Bragman says that Sam wanted to come out not to be a civil rights icon but so he could focus on football.
“Michael is a football player, not an activist,” Bragman told outsports.com. “If you start showing up at too many dinners and too many parades, you start to send the message to a potential team about his priorities. The community wins when he steps onto an NFL field and plays in a game, not as the grand marshal of a pride parade. He may do that eventually, but the first year needs to be all about football.”
GLAAD, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender media advocacy group, said Sam is the latest high-profile athlete to come out as LGBT. Others include the NBA’s Jason Collins, the WNBA’s Brittney Griner, WWE’s Darren Young, UFC’s Liz Carmouche, MMA’s Fallon Fox and Major League Soccer’s Robbie Rogers.
I could care less about a man’s sexual preference! i care about winning games and being respectful in the locker room!
— DeAngelo Williams (@DeAngeloRB) February 10, 2014
Hats off to you Michael Sam, that takes some guts #respect
— Jonathan A. Martin (@J_Martin71) February 10, 2014
CNN contributed to this article.