[Marxism] College Football Star Michael Sam Says He Is Gay; May Become First Publicly Gay Player in N.F.L.
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Sun Feb 9 18:39:27 MST 2014
NY Times, Feb. 9 2014
College Football Star Michael Sam Says He Is Gay; May Become First
Publicly Gay Player in N.F.L.
By JOHN BRANCH
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
Mr. Sam, a 6-foot-2, 260-pound senior, went on to a stellar season for
Missouri, which finished 12-2 and won the Cotton Bowl. He was named a
first-team all-American. He was the defensive player of the year in the
Southeastern Conference, widely considered the top league in college
football. Teammates voted him Missouri’s most valuable player.
Now Mr. Sam enters an uncharted area of the sports landscape. He is
making his public declaration before he is drafted, to the potential
detriment to his professional career. And he is doing so as he prepares
to enter a league with an overtly macho culture, where controversies
over homophobia have attracted recent attention.
As the pace of the gay rights movement has accelerated drastically in
recent years, the sports industry has seen relatively little change,
with no publicly gay male athletes in the N.F.L., the N.B.A., the N.H.L.
or Major League Baseball. Against this backdrop, Mr. Sam could become a
symbol for the country’s gay rights movement or a flashpoint in a
football culture war — or both.
Mr. Sam, 24, is projected to be chosen in the early rounds of the N.F.L.
draft in May, ordinarily an invitation to a prosperous professional
career. He said he decided to come out publicly now because he sensed
that rumors were circulating.
“I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell
it,” said Mr. Sam, who also spoke with ESPN on Sunday. “I just want to
own my truth.”
But the N.F.L. presents the potential for unusual challenges. In the
past year or so, the league has been embroiled in controversies ranging
from antigay statements from players to reports that scouts asked at
least one prospective player if he liked girls. Recently, Chris Kluwe, a
punter, said that he was subject to homophobic language from coaches and
pushed out of a job with the Minnesota Vikings because he vocally
supported same-sex marriage laws. And last week, Jonathan Vilma, a New
Orleans Saints linebacker, said in an interview with the NFL Network
that he did not want a gay teammate.
“I think he would not be accepted as much as we think he would be
accepted,” said Mr. Vilma, who has played 10 seasons in the league.
At a showcase game for college seniors last month, several scouts asked
Mr. Sam’s agent, Joe Barkett, questions about whether Mr. Sam had a
girlfriend or whether Mr. Barkett had seen him with women.
The league, which has a policy prohibiting discrimination based on
sexual orientation (among other things), is the largest of the major
sports leagues in the United States, with about 1,600 players on rosters
at any time during the season. But it has never had a publicly gay player.
Over the decades, some players in the major sports leagues did little to
conceal their sexual orientation, but they were not out to the public
during their careers. A few players have come out upon retirement, like
the N.F.L. player Dave Kopay in the 1970s and the N.B.A. player John
Amaechi in 2007, both considered pioneers by many gay people.
Last spring, Jason Collins, a 12-year veteran of the N.B.A., mostly as a
little-used reserve, came out after the season. A free agent, he has not
been signed by another team.
Also last year, the soccer player Robbie Rogers, a former member of the
United States national team who later played professionally in England,
revealed that he was gay after he announced his retirement. Encouraged
by the supportive response, he resumed his career, playing for the Los
Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer.
While Mr. Sam’s professional prospects are far from certain, several
N.F.L. draft forecasters have predicted that he will be chosen in the
third round. (Thirty-two players are selected in each round.) Rarely are
players who are drafted that high cut by teams, and often they become
starters, sometimes in their rookie year.
Between now and the draft, Mr. Sam plans to attend the scouting combine,
where players are put through a gantlet of physical and mental tests to
judge their readiness for the N.F.L. Mr. Sam might be considered too
small for a professional defensive end, meaning he would have to learn
to play as an outside linebacker.
But it is reasonable for Mr. Sam to wonder what sort of impact —
positive or negative — his declaration will have on his professional
“I’m not naïve,” Mr. Sam said. “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.”
Launch media viewer
Michael Sam, a defensive lineman at Missouri, is projected to be chosen
in the early rounds of the N.F.L. draft in May. Brandon Wade/Associated
Mr. Sam said he graduated from Missouri in December, the only member of
his family to attend college. He grew up in Hitchcock, Tex., near the
Gulf Coast about 40 miles southeast of Houston, the seventh of eight
children of JoAnn and Michael Sam. It was a difficult childhood; three
of his siblings have died, and two brothers are in prison, Mr. Sam said.
He was raised mostly by his mother, and he spent some years with another
family who took him in. All have been supportive of his coming out, Mr.
Mr. Sam said he began to wonder if he was gay in his early teens, though
he had a girlfriend in high school. It was after he arrived at Missouri
in 2009 that he realized for certain that he was gay. Teammates
increasingly suspected as much, and some knew that he dated a man on the
university’s swim team, but it never prevented Mr. Sam from being one of
the most popular players on the team. He was known for his intensity on
the field and his booming voice off it.
“When I first met him, you could be downstairs and you could hear Mike
all the way on the second floor of the dorms,” said Missouri wide
receiver L’Damian Washington, who met Mr. Sam on a recruiting trip and
quickly became a close friend. “He’s just a loud guy. Everybody knows
when Michael Sam is in the building.”
Mr. Sam came out to two of his friends on the team, Mr. Washington and
Marvin Foster, about a year ago. It was not a huge surprise. Mr.
Washington was with Mr. Sam when Mr. Sam said he needed to go pick up a
friend. He told Mr. Washington that the friend was gay and asked Mr.
Washington if that would bother him. Mr. Washington said no, and Mr. Sam
came out to him.
Last April, the Missouri athletic administration held diversity seminars
for all athletes, part of the You Can Play project, focused largely on
lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. Mr. Sam was one of
several athletes to approach Pat Ivey, Missouri’s associate athletic
director for athletic performance, to compliment him for the lesson. But
Mr. Sam was the most effusive, Mr. Ivey said, as if trying to tell Mr.
“When Mike finished the conversation, he said, ‘Coach, I know I can
play,’ ” Mr. Ivey recalled. “And we kind of had an understanding of each
other, that this wasn’t just him saying, ‘Good job.’ This was him
saying: ‘Coach, I’m involved in it. I’m a part of what we just discussed.’ ”
During practices in August, Missouri mixed players from different
position groups on the team and put them into small meetings of 8 or 10.
Mr. Washington, a wide receiver, happened to be in the same group as Mr.
“I knew that something was about to come because of the way he was
balling up the paper in his hands,” Mr. Washington recalled. “He kept
rolling it up. So I kind of knew something was coming, but I didn’t
think it was that.”
Mr. Sam was a senior and longtime friend to other team leaders. Younger
players looked up to him. But on a team with about 100 players, of
different ages, backgrounds and beliefs, there were varying levels of
“I think there were, just like in society, there are people who don’t
understand, and don’t want to understand, and aren’t accepting,” Mr.
Ivey said. “And we worked through those issues.”
Mr. Sam played down any repercussions, saying he had the full support of
teammates, coaches and administrators. One teammate, he said,
accompanied him to a gay pride event in St. Louis last summer, and
others went with him to gay bars.
“Some people actually just couldn’t believe I was actually gay,” Mr. Sam
said. “But I never had a problem with my teammates. Some of my coaches
were worried, but there was never an issue.”
One lingering issue, Mr. Washington said, was trying to get players to
change their casual language in the locker room. Loosely lobbed
homophobic remarks suddenly had a specific sting.
Mr. Sam played down that, too. For him, coming out to his football team
was a positive step, on a path that seems as if it will lead to the N.F.L.
“Once I became official to my teammates, I knew who I was,” Mr. Sam
said. “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
No one asked.
“I guess they don’t want to ask a 6-3, 260-pound defensive lineman if he
was gay or not,” Mr. Sam said. And he laughed.
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