Michael Sam, a top-rated college football player at the University of Missouri and a highly regarded pro prospect, came out of the closet in an exclusive interview with the New York Times over the weekend. It’s a huge deal in the macho world of men’s college sports, and a big step for Sam, who made the announcement weeks before the NFL scouting combine. The move will likely make him the first openly gay active NFL player since Dave Kopay in 1975.
Sam, who was born the seventh of eight children and has known he was gay since the start of his college career, says that he’s received overwhelming support from both his family and his teammates, many of whom knew that he had dated a man on the university’s swim team. But a difficult road lies ahead in the NFL.
“I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” said Mr. Sam, who also spoke with ESPN on Sunday. “I just want to own my truth.”
But the N.F.L. presents the potential for unusual challenges. In the past year or so, it has been embroiled in controversies ranging from antigay 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 NFL Network that he did not want a gay teammate.
Outsports published the behind-the-scenes story of how Sam decided to come out publicly. With the NBA’s Jason Collins and the WNBA’s Brittney Griner paving the way, there’s long been talk of an NFL player coming out of the closet. The tricky part, according to league sources, was finding the right player whose story could resonate with the public. Last month, Sam would up being that guy. And here’s how:
The story had the potential to be the biggest sports story of the year. This wasn’t an active player on the Denver Broncos coming out that affected one team – this was a player who could be drafted by any of the 32 teams. It affected the entire nation, every locker room, every front office, every sports talk show, every sports blog. It would also be a story that resonated throughout the year: later this month at the Combine, next month at Missouri’s Pro Day, in May at the NFL Draft, then again this summer at OTAs, training camp and in September when the NFL season starts. The story would be a marathon, but the timing of the first step was crucial.