University of Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam has come out of the closet in an interview with the NYT:
Coaches at the University of Missouri divided players into small groups at a preseason football practice last year for a team-building exercise. One by one, players were asked to talk about themselves — where they grew up, why they chose Missouri and what others might not know about them.
As Michael Sam, a defensive lineman, began to speak, he balled up a piece of paper in his hands. “I’m gay,” he said. With that, Mr. Sam set himself on a path to become the first publicly gay player in the National Football League.
“I looked in their eyes, and they just started shaking their heads — like, finally, he came out,” Mr. Sam said Sunday in an interview with The New York Times, the first time he spoke publicly about his sexual orientation.
Watch his (updated: extended) interview with the NYT, AFTER THE JUMP...
Sam, who was named a first-team all-American and the defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference, as well as Missouri's MVP (as voted by the players) will likely become the first openly gay player in the NFL. He is eligible for the draft in May.
Sam also gave an interview to ESPN.
"I knew from a young age that I was attracted to guys. I didn't know if it was a phase ... I didn't want to say, 'Hey, I might be gay. I might be bi.' I just didn't know ... I wanted to find who I was and make sure I knew what was comfortable. So I didn't tell anyone growing up. I endured so much in my past: seeing my older brother killed from a gunshot wound, not knowing that my oldest sister died when she was a baby and I never got the chance to meet her. My second oldest brother went missing in 1998, and me and my little sister were the last ones to see him ... my other two brothers have been in and out of jail since 8th grade, currently both in jail...Telling the world I'm gay is nothing compared to that."
"I just want to go to the team who drafts me," he said, "because that team knows about me, knows that I'm gay, and also knows that I work hard. That's the team I want to go to."
"I told my mom and dad last week, and they just pretty much said, 'We knew and we love you and support you.' I'm their baby boy. I'm the first to go to college. I'm the first to graduate college. Something like this is just another milestone...And I love my hometown. I think when this story breaks, I think they're just going to love me even more for who I am."
Watch his interviews with NYT and ESPN, AFTER THE JUMP...
The NFL 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 towelcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014."
Outsports has a behind-the-scenes story on how Sam came out:
Saturday afternoon, I sat with Sam and grilled him in a practice interview at Bragman's house. The next day he would be sitting down with ESPN and The New York Times. Bragman, Weiss and Barkett were the audience, critiquing Sam on his answers. When the topic was football he knew what to say, sharing playing experiences and his love of defense (he'd rather be the one hitting than being hit). When asked about his childhood, he opened up sharing intimate details about enduring abuse from his brothers, experiencing the pain of losing three siblings, and finding solace in football. He is the first person in his family to graduate from college. When questions turned to gay issues in that mock interview, Sam worked through the answers.
Saturday night, Bragman held a coming out party for Sam at his home in Los Angeles. It was a powerful collection of guests. Dave Kopay, the gay former NFL running back who blazed a trail when he came out publicly in 1975, was in high spirits. Former NFL players Chris Kluwe, Brendon Ayanbedajo and Wade Davis, plus former Major Leaguer Billy Bean — the former San Diego Padre who came out over a decade ago — had come to lend their support. Outsports' Jim Buzinski and I were also in attendance.