Last year as the University of Missouri football team arrived for a preseason practice, the players were divided into groups for a team-building exercise and then asked, one-by-one, to talk about themselves.
Michael Sam, a defensive lineman, stood up and said: “I’m gay.”
Two little words and a world of difference, because he isn’t just declaring who he is, he is setting himself up to be the first openly gay player in the National Football League.
Now, I don’t know football, so this is all gibberish to me, but they say Michael Sam, a senior at Missouri, had an amazing season; he was a first-team all-American and was also named the Associated Press defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference. In addition, his teammates voted him Missouri’s most valuable player.
The gay guy.
Still, and this comes as no surprise, there are some who say maybe Michael Sam shouldn’t have come out before he is drafted by a pro team — he is projected to be chosen in the early rounds — because it might hurt his chances. But I say he’s taking a stand and saying, Look how well I play. Look what I can bring to a team. Oh, by the way, I’m gay.
“I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it. I just want to own my truth.”
Still, this is kind of a tough time in the NFL. I’ve posted quite a bit about some of the anti-gay things players have said about having a gay teammate; there are some who think gay men play professional football so they can ogle naked guys in the showers, believe it or not. In fact, just last week, Jonathan Vilma, a New Orleans Saints linebacker, said that very thing.
But, maybe, for every Vilma, there’s a Chris Kluwe or a Brendon Ayanbadejo who stand up for the gay community, and, in the case of Kluwe, stand up against the NFL about the alleged homophobic language from coaches and being pushed out of a job with the Minnesota Vikings because he vocally supported same-sex marriage laws.
So, maybe it’s time for a gay player; maybe it’s well past time. The NFL, in a statement regarding Michael Sam, said:
“We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage. Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the N.F.L. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”
And while Michael Sam’s chances at becoming a professional football player aren’t set in stone — nothing really is — several draft forecasters believe he could be chosen in the third round and become a starting player for an NFL team. But, between now and the draft, Mr. Sam plans to attend the scouting combine, where players are put through physical and mental tests to judge their readiness for professional football.
“I’m not naïve, I know this is a huge deal and I know how important this is. But my role as of right now is to train for the combine and play in the N.F.L.”
Michael Sam, like nearly all of The Gays, wondered about his orientation from the time he was a young boy. He’d had girlfriends in high school, but it wasn’t until he came to the University of Missouri in 2009 that he knew he was gay. And his teammates began to see it, too; some knew he was dating another man on campus, but it never stopped him from being one of the better, more well-liked, players on the team.
It’s just another thing; another thing he had to tell his parents about.
"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."
Sam came out to two of his friends on the team, L’Damian Washington and Marvin Foster, about a year ago. Washington said he wasn’t surprised; he’d been with Michael Sam when Sam said he needed to go pick up a friend. He told Washington the friend was gay and asked if that would bother him and when Washington said no, Sam came out to him.
And that was that.
Sam downplays any notion of dissent or trouble on the team following his announcement; in fact, he says he has the full support of teammates, coaches and administrators. One teammate even accompanied him to a gay pride event in St. Louis and others gone with him to gay bars.
But there was one last thing Michael Sam wanted to address that day; the language in the locker-room. He says he’s trying to get players to stop with the homophobic jabs, because they do have a certain sting to them.
“Once I became official to my teammates, I knew who I was. I knew that I was gay. And I knew that I was Michael Sam, who’s a Mizzou football player who happens to be gay. I was so proud of myself and I just didn’t care who knew. If someone on the street would have asked me, ‘Hey, Mike, I heard you were gay; is that true?’ I would have said yes, [but] I guess they don’t want to ask a 6-3, 260-pound defensive lineman if he was gay or not.”
But, he might be, and it might make no difference at all in whether or not he can play professional football, but it makes a huge difference in his own life, and in the lives of other gay athletes who wonder is they should come out; who wonder how difficult it would be to play and to be gay.
"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."
Welcome out, Michael, and good luck with the draft.
And please accept, as our gift to you from HOMO HQ, the Obligatory Coming Out Toaster Oven and a copy of The Gay Agenda.