Missouri Tigers defensive lineman Michael Sam, an All-American and Associated Press’ SEC Defensive Player of the Year, announced on ESPN’s Outside The Lines and in the New York Times Sunday that he is gay, and that his teammates have known since August when he formally came out to them. He decided to come out publicly after his experience at the Senior Bowl two weeks ago, when it appeared his teammates at the showcase were already aware of his sexual orientation.
“I didn’t realize how many people actually knew, and I was afraid that someone would tell or leak something out about me,” he said. “I want to own my truth. … No one else should tell my story but me.”
When he told his Tigers teammates back in August, he said that while he was scared, their reaction to the news — and their sense of already knowing — put him at ease.
“Coaches just wanted to know a little about ourselves, our majors, where we’re from, and something that no one knows about you,” Sam said. “And I used that opportunity just to tell them that I was gay. And their reaction was like, ‘Michael Sam finally told us.’ ”
Asked what that moment felt like, Sam said, “I was kind of scared, even though they already knew. Just to see their reaction was awesome. They supported me from Day One. I couldn’t have better teammates. … I’m telling you what: I wouldn’t have the strength to do this today if I didn’t know how much support they’d given me this past semester.”
Sam is eligible for the NFL Draft, and is expected to be an early to mid-round pick. Yet, this latest news will almost certainly provide the basis for a litmus test on how NFL teams approach the idea of having an openly gay player on the roster — especially in light of comments made by Jonathan Vilma that seemed to paint a picture of NFL locker rooms not being very receptive to gay teammates.