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Topics In the News
NFL Prospect Michael Sam: "I am an openly proud gay man."
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 02/10/14
Last updated on: 02/10/14
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Michael Sam.

On February 9, 2014, in carefully orchestrated interviews with the New York Times and ESPN's Outside the Lines, Michael Sam came out publicly and announced his intention to become the National Football League's first openly gay player. Sam recently graduated from the University of Missouri, where he helped lead the Tigers to a stellar 12-2 season, including a Cotton Bowl championship. In December he was named a unanimous first-team all-American and was selected the Associated Press defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference, widely considered the top league in college football. His teammates voted him Missouri's most valuable player. He is widely expected to be an early round draft choice.

As Cyd Zeigler reports at Outsports, Sam's coming out was carefully planned by Howard Bragman, the publicist who had managed the coming out of former NBA player John Amaechi and had been hired by Sam's agents, whom he chose because they were amenable to his coming out. While the agents thought the best time would be in late March after Missouri's Pro Day, Bragman argued that earlier was better, telling them "The key was to give NFL teams as much time as possible to absorb this: The further ahead of the Draft, the less it would matter in the draft."

Bragman had originally recommended a public coming out in late February, but the schedule was advanced when it became apparent that rumors about Sam's sexuality were spreading among pro scouts, who were asking inappropriate questions. Sam wanted to make sure that he would be able to tell his own story, rather than to confirm or deny someone else's.

As Zeigler explains, "For Sam and his team, the most important element to the entire process has been protecting Sam's ability to tell his story himself first. It was that core tenet that dictated the decisions of where, when and how to break the story: Sam, not a reporter looking for some pageviews, had to tell his story on his terms."

Sam had come out to his teammates at the University of Missouri last year, inspired by an April 2013 "You Can Play" presentation that stressed diversity and inclusivity in athletics. After first telling his coach, he began spreading the word among his teammates, some of whom had known or suspected. It helped that Sam was one of the most popular players on the team, respected for both his performance on the field and his leadership abilities off the field.

As John Branch reports in the New York Times, "Sam played down 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 remarked. "But I never had a problem with my teammates. Some of my coaches were worried, but there was never an issue."

University of Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel issued a statement following the news that Sam had come out publicly: "Michael is a great example of just how important it is to be respectful of others. He's taught a lot of people here firsthand that it doesn't matter what your background is, or your personal orientation, we're all on the same team and we all support each other."

The NFL also released a statement: "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."

However, Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans report in Sports Illustrated that eight NFL executives have, upon condition of anonymity, said that Sam's decision to come out prior to May's NFL draft "will make his path to the league daunting."

"In blunt terms, they project a significant drop in Sam's draft stock, a publicity circus and an NFL locker room culture not prepared to deal with an openly gay player," Thamel and Evans write.

All the NFL personnel members interviewed believed that Sam's announcement will cause him to drop in the draft.

In the video below, from the New York Times, Sam tells his story to Matthew Orr and Sean Patrick Farrell.

In the video below, Sam is interviewed by ESPN's Chris Connelly.

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