by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Michael Sam, an All-American defensive lineman from the University of Missouri, publicly revealed that he's Gay Sunday, creating the possibility he'll be the first openly Gay player drafted by the National Football League.
'I came to tell the world I'm an openly proud Gay man,' he said in an interview with ESPN.
In that instant, Sam changed the world as we know it for any Gay child who loves sports. Inevitably, when he is drafted and plays and the sky doesn't fall and the locker room doesn't become a bathhouse, his courage to come out will make it possible for others to follow in his footsteps, opening the door for Gay players from now on. This is nothing short of historic and he should be celebrated.
He said he told his Missouri teammates in August and suffered no repercussions. He said he was surprised to discover many people in the media already knew he was Gay.
'I understand how big this is,' Sam 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.'
The game changer here is that Sam isn't an NFL hopeful who just so happens to be Gay. He is an NFL hopeful who is good; in fact, he's really, really good. Sam, at 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds, starred in college football last season. Besides being first team All-American, he was named the top defensive player in the Southeastern Conference, considered the nation's best league. Teammates named him the team's most valuable player. So now we have a situation where teams might actually be fighting over who gets Sam. Again, this changes everything.
There is one team in the NFL that Seattle knows well and that is our very own Seahawks. Could Sam be coming to play for the Hawks anytime soon? If openly Gay Mayor of Seattle Ed Murray had his way, the current Super Bowl champions would snatch him up in the next round of draft picks without hesitation.
'I applaud Michael Sam for his incredible courage to come out. He could - and should - become the first openly-Gay NFL player in history. Who he is or who he loves shouldn't be a big deal, but it is because he is the first to blaze this trail,' said Murray. 'The importance of his leadership on this issue cannot be understated - even as we hear about the possible reluctance of teams to take a chance on a player who happens to be Gay. I hope to see Michael Sam play for a team deserving of his incredible talents - perhaps even right here in Seattle for our Super Bowl Champion Seahawks.'
While serving in the Washington State legislature, then Senator Murray was a key architect of Washington State's anti-discrimination, domestic partnership and marriage equality laws.
So what did the Seahawks think of the opportunity of Sam becoming a member of their ball club?
Suzanne Lavender, a spokesperson for the Seattle Seahawks told Seattle Gay News, 'We support Michael Sam's decision and applaud his courage. There is always room on the Seahawks for a good football player and teammate.'
'As outlined in our core value statement,' she continued, 'the Seahawks organization is guided by overall principles of acceptance and understanding that help us create a culture of respect, equality and inclusiveness both on and off the field. It is our goal to use these core principles and our commitment to passion, character and excellence to empower change within our community.'
'We, as an organization and as individuals, represent and respect a wide range of human differences, personal experiences and cultural backgrounds,' she said.
Sam also spoke about his sexual orientation Sunday to The New York Times, saying: '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.'
But not everyone is so accepting of his truth. He's expected to be picked in the NFL draft in May, yet coming out as Gay is expected to hurt his chances - according to who you ask that is. The Bleacher Report mock draft projected him to go in the late rounds because 'athletic limitations including a lack of flexibility and a lack of optimal size are concerning.'
His agent said Monday that he does not think Sam's decision to acknowledge his sexual orientation will hurt his draft prospects.
'I think, if anything, teams will look at it and see a guy who was honest and upfront instead of waiting until after the draft to potentially make his announcement,' Joe Barkett told CNN. 'Mike was forward, and he wants the team who drafts him to accept him for who he is.'
Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh said on The Rush Limbaugh Show that heterosexuals 'are under assault' this week. And yes, he said all that because Michael Sam came out as Gay.
'Heterosexuality has no political agenda and there is no agenda attached to it,' he said in a tirade Monday. 'Heterosexuality does not have activists. Heteros - you say heterosexuality may be 95, 98 percent of the population - they're under assault by the 2-5 percent that are homosexual. So why - I'm just asking, I'm just throwing it out there - why is there a political agenda attached to and driven by homosexuality and there is no corresponding heterosexual agenda?'
'Forget minority versus majority,' he said. 'That's not what I have in mind here, and it's not because a minority must do what it has to do to overcome a majority because that's not the answer. OK cool, good, that's wrong too. I got people shouting what they think in my ear. They're all going to be wrong.'
'OK, let me keep going. Why is it OK now for a Gay man to play football? I thought it was dangerous and leads to concussions, that it was barbaric,' he said. 'I thought that it was too dangerous and leads to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and early death, suicide, but yet, but yet, here comes the first announced Gay guy and 'hey cool, man, go for it!' Why is it heroic for a Gay man to play football?'
Limbaugh goes on to say, '& because the media wants a Gay football player to succeed. Why is a Gay man playing football heroic?
The NFL issued a statement on Twitter on Sunday: '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, the NFL has made headlines on the issue of sexual orientation in the past. According to CNN, last year, a University of Colorado player said an NFL team asked him if he liked girls and had a girlfriend.
The NFL quickly said, 'Any team or employee that inquires about impermissible subjects or makes an employment decision based on such factors is subject to league discipline.'
Sam issued his own Tweet: 'I want to thank everybody for their support and encouragement, especially @espn, @nytimes and @nfl. I am proud to tell my story to the world!'
Part of Sam's story includes some things that many LGBTQ people can understand: rejection, the closet, and feeling as though you might never get out of the situation you are in. There's one thing that is for sure - Sam hasn't had it easy - at home or on the field.
According to a story that ran in the New York Times this week:
'Last Tuesday, Michael Sam Sr. was at a Denny's near his home outside Dallas to celebrate his birthday when his son sent him a text message.
Dad, I'm Gay, he wrote.
The party stopped cold. 'I couldn't eat no more, so I went to Applebee's to have drinks,' Sam Sr. said. 'I don't want my grandkids raised in that kind of environment.
'I'm old school,' he added. 'I'm a man-and-a-woman type of guy.' As evidence, he pointed out that he had taken an older son to Mexico to lose his virginity.
On Sunday night, just after Michael Sam announced his intention to make sports history, his father was still struggling with the news.
Sam Sr. loves his son, and he said he hoped his son made it to the NFL. 'As a black man, we have so many hurdles to cross,' he said. 'This is just one he has to cross.'
But he expressed discomfort at the very idea of a Gay NFL player, even if the player was his son. He grumbled that Deacon Jones, the Hall of Fame defensive end renowned for his toughness, 'is turning over in his grave.'
But Sam had anticipated his family's uneasiness. In the past he has spoken out about his tough upbringing, which he said was more challenging than the decision to come out publicly.
'I'm closer to my friends than I am to my family,' Sam said.
His family life is mired in tragedy and struggle. Michael Sr. and his mother, JoAnn Sam, were separated after having eight children. He went to North Texas to work as a trucker. She tried to keep what was left of her family together. A sister drowned when she was 2, before Michael was born, when another child accidentally knocked her off a fishing pier. Another brother, Russell, was 15 when he was shot and killed trying to break into a home, in what his father has said was part of a gang initiation. Another brother, Julian, has not been heard from since he left for work one day in 1998; his family believes he is dead. Two others are in jail.
'It was very hard growing up in that environment,' Sam told the New York Times. 'My family was very notorious in the town that we lived in. Everyone would say, 'There goes those damn Sams.' I didn't want to paint that ill picture of me. I knew the good in my family. They didn't know our background and the adversity we had to endure. I wanted to succeed and be a beacon of hope in my family.'
Nobody in Sam's family had attended college, and he did not believe he would be the first. But as Sam coped with a disjointed family and wrestled with his sexuality, he says he knew he needed to get out of Hitchcock. He knew his best chance was through football. And now, he is being considered for NFL play.
Sam's story is an inspiration; and not just for LGBTQ youth, but anyone who feels as though the adversity they face in their daily life controls the outcome of their future. Sam turned everything around.
Sam's announcement comes as the federal government expands its recognition of same-sex marriages. Attorney General Eric Holder issued a memo Monday that extends the federal government's recognition of same-sex marriages, even in the 34 states that don't consider it legal.
GLAAD said Sam is 'the latest high-profile athlete to come out as LGBT. Others include the NBA's Jason Collins, the WNBA's Brittney Griner, WWE's Darren Young, UFC's Liz Carmouche, MMA's Fallon Fox and Major League Soccer's Robbie Rogers.'
Of those athletes, Collins made the biggest media splash. He's not playing in the NBA this season.
Sam's head football coach at Missouri, Gary Pinkel, told media, 'We're really happy for Michael that he's made the decision to announce this, and we're proud of him and how he represents Mizzou. Michael is a great example of just how important it is to be respectful of others, he's taught a lot of people here first-hand 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.'
GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis said in a prepared statement: 'By rewriting the script for countless young athletes, Michael has demonstrated the leadership that, along with his impressive skills on the field, makes him a natural fit for the NFL. With acceptance of LGBT people rising across our coasts - in our schools, churches, and workplaces - it's clear that America is ready for an openly Gay football star.'
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