KANSAS CITY, Mo. – While speaking to both the New York Times, and ESPN’s ‘Outside the Lines’ on Sunday, Missouri All-American Linebacker, Michael Sam, confirmed he is gay.
Sam was the AP SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and helped Missouri earn a berth in the SEC title game by winning that league’s eastern division championship. He is expected to be a middle round pick in this May’s NFL Draft, meaning he could become the first openly game player in the NFL.
“I understand this is big,” Sam told ESPN. “It’s a big deal. No one has done this before. And it’s a kind of nervous process, but I know what I want to be… I want to be a football player in the NFL.”
In statements issued Sunday night by the Missouri Athletic department, both Head Football Coach Gary Pinkel, and Athletic Director Mike Alden, offered support for Sam and his decision.
“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.
If Michael doesn’t have the support of his teammates like he did this past year, I don’t think there’s any way he has the type of season he put together. We talk all the time here in our program about how one of our core values is to respect the cultural differences of others, and this certainly applies. We view ourselves as one big family that has a very diverse collection of people from all walks of life, and if you’re part of our family, we support you.
Looking back, I take great pride in how Michael and everyone in our program handled his situation. This past August, Michael was very direct with the team when he decided to let everyone know that he is gay. We discussed how to deal with that from a public standpoint, and ultimately Michael decided that he didn’t want that to be the focal point of the season. He wanted to focus on football and not do anything to add pressure for him or for his teammates, and I think that’s a great example of the kind of person he is.
We left it that whenever he felt the time was right; however he wanted to make the announcement, that we had his back and we’d be right there with him. We’re very proud of Michael and the courage he has displayed for coming out. We look forward to following his career, and the success he’s going to have.”
Alden added a lengthy statement as well.
“We are so proud of Michael for what he has accomplished at Mizzou academically, socially and competitively. This is a young man who earned his degree from MU, was a unanimous All-American on the football field and now he’s being a leader in his personal life. He continues to display great character, courage and compassion,” he said.
“We are proud of him on every level. We work very hard at the University of Missouri to provide an environment that is respectful and inclusive of all people. We’re pleased with the strides we’ve made over the years with our student-athletes, coaches and staff about respecting and celebrating our differences,” he continued.
“We continue to grow every day. We talk all the time about our core value of respect, and we emphasize that in a number of ways, whether it’s through individual actions, team settings, public efforts such as our ‘If You Can Play, You Can Play’ video, and even our Men-for-Men and Women-for-Women programs. The University’s theme is called ‘One Mizzou.’ What that theme represents is that we are all family, we are all Tigers, and we should all respect and appreciate each other. We wish Michael all the best in all that he does,” said Alden.
Sam, who came out to his parents over the phone this past week, said that the process of coming out isn’t nearly as tough as certain things he has already had to endure in his past. He says he is proud to finally be speaking out.
“I’m not afraid to tell the world who I am. I’m Michael Sam: I’m a college graduate. I’m African American, and I’m gay,” he said during the interview. “I’m comfortable in my skin.”
As for support on campus, some found a unique way to show Sam some love. See picture posted to Twitter below.
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) February 10, 2014