By Kirti Chakote
In an interview with ESPN that aired on Feb. 9, Michael Sam came out publicly as the first potential NFL draft pick to be gay. Just off his senior year with the Missouri Tigers Football Team, where he was co-Defensive South Eastern Conference (SEC) player of the year, Sam is projected to be a mid-to-late round pick in the 2014 NFL draft. He finished his final season with an SEC leading 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss.
“I understand how big this is,” he 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.”
Even though the news could potentially hurt his draft stock, Sam decided to come out before the NFL draft due to the fact that many people already knew his orientation at the Senior Bowl a couple of weeks ago. He wanted to make sure he owned up to his truth before more people found out without him telling them.
Michael came out to his football team last August. The team was completely supportive of his sexual orientation. He says his strength to come out to the nation was due to his team’s encouraging presence since day one of his revelation.
Since the ESPN interview and within his team, there has been overwhelming support for Sam’s announcement. Beginning with the NFL, the league stated that it admired Michael Sam’s honesty and courage, and it looks forward to welcoming him in 2014. Further, several NFL players have tweeted their support, including 49er’s wide receiver Michael Crabtree, Chiefs’ quarterback Chase Daniel and 2014 Super Bowl M.V.P. Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith.
Other famous faces to applaud Sam’s bravado are the President, the First Lady, gay CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, and many others.
However, probably the most influential support for Michael Sam came from Jason Collins. In an interview with Sports Illustrated last April, as an unrestricted, free NBA agent, Collins became the first openly gay active athlete in the four major American sports.
He was also the first openly gay athlete to play in an NBA game this past Sunday, when he signed a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets. Collins met with Sam for two days prior to his recent announcement.
The acceptance for gay athletes has increased significantly. According to an anonymous survey on players’ sexuality, 86 percent of NFL athletes do not care about players’ sexual orientations on their team.
Currently in the NFL Scouting Combine, when potential draft picks go through various workouts to showcase their skills and athletic ability, Sam has to deal with the unrelenting media.
He wishes they would stop addressing him as the gay athlete in the Combine and would just look at him as just any other player. However, Sam realizes that will only come with time.
It remains to be seen how much Sam’s recent revelation will affect his draft stock. Not only will his future team have to consider Sam’s acceptance in the team’s locker room, but the organization will also have to be willing to deal with the significant amount of media scrutiny that will follow Sam.
However, Sam’s ability to answer the media confidently and comfortably during the NFL Scouting Combine is certainly assuaging some of the teams’ executives’ concerns.
Nonetheless, Sam completely understands the ramifications of his announcement. He realizes that his life has changed forever, and he embraces it with complete passion and acceptance.
He concluded his ESPN interview with the following statement: “I’m not afraid to tell the world who I am. I’m Michael Sam: I’m a college graduate. I’m African American, and I’m gay, I’m comfortable in my skin.”