News & Politics

College Football Star Comes Out As Gay—3 Months Before NFL Draft

Missouri defensive end Michael Sam could make history as the first openly gay National Football League player.

Missouri defensive end Michael Sam.
Photo Credit: Marcus Qwertyus/Wikimedia Commons

College football star Michael Sam made history last night when he dropped a bombshell published in three news outlets:  he is gay.  The award-winning Missouri defensive end could now become the first openly gay National Football League player.

Sam had an excellent season at Missouri, was named an All-American player and the top defense player of the year by the Associated Press.  His teammates voted him most valuable player.  Now, he’s testing the NFL’s tolerance by announcing his sexual orientation about three months before the NFL draft.  

"I just want to go to the team who drafts me,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," Sam told ESPN.

Sam first came out to his teammates at Missouri last year.  In a statement, the NFL sounded supportive notes.  “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."

Sam should be a top pick.  But anonymous NFL officials told Sports Illustrated that Sam’s announcement will make teams less likely to pick him.  

“I don't think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet," one anonymous NFL player personnel assistant said.  “In the coming decade or two, it's going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it's still a man's-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It'd chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room."  Other NFL officials said his coming out would make him drop in the draft.  

Sam’s announcement comes as attention on gay athletes has increased.  Two members of the U.S. delegation to the Sochi Olympics are former star athletes--and are openly gay.

Sam is not the first openly gay male team-sport player to come out while still playing.  At the end of last year, Jason Collins, a veteran National Basketball Association player, came out as gay.  Other male players have come out while retired.


Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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