“I’m Michael Sam. I’m a football player and I’m gay” said the 24 year-old in a video posted on the New York Times website.
Sam was a defensive lineman for the University of Missouri football team, the Mizzou Tigers, until he graduated last December. According to the US media, he is now expected to be drafted by an NFL franchise in May.
The player will participate in the NFL’s scouting combine later this month, a week-long showcase, in which athletes attend by invitation and perform physical and mental tests in front of the league’s Coaches, General Managers and Scouts.
“I came out to my team this last August and they rallied around me and supported me. I knew in that moment that this can happen anywhere. If my team can support me, any team can support me”, said the player in the video.
On his decision to come out Sam explained:
“I just want to own my truth before anyone breaks a story about me”.
Moving forward America’s most popular sport
In a statement the NFL welcomed the player’s announcement:
“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.”
Despite the league’s reaction, the most popular sport in the United States has only seen former players come out, including David Kopay, Roy Simmons, Esera Tuaolo and Wade Davis.
Discrimination based on sexual orientation
In April 2013, the NFL distributed a document to all its teams reiterating its anti-discrimination policies, after three players said officials posed questions related to their sexual orientation.
The league’s anti-discrimination and harassment policy says that:
“Coaches, General Managers and others responsible for interviewing and hiring draft-eligible players and free agents must not seek information concerning or make personnel decisions based on a player’s sexual orientation. This includes asking questions during an interview that suggest that the player’s sexual orientation will be a factor in the decision to draft or sign him.
“Examples: Do you like women or men? How well do you do with the ladies? Do you have a girlfriend?”
If Sam is drafted, as the US media speculated, and becomes a NFL roster in the 2014 season, he will be the first gay sportsmen to play in any of the North American four major professional leagues (football, baseball, basketball and hockey).
Last April, the basketball player Jason Collins revealed he was gay in a Sports Illustrated article. However, the announcement was made after the regular season and he has not competed against as an openly gay player.
“I probably may be the first but I won’t be the last. And I think only good things will come from this,” Sam added.
Reactions to the announcement
Michael Sam’s announcement has been supported by many across the globe.
— Mizzou (@Mizzou) February 10, 2014
Very happy for Michael Sam. His courage will inspire millions to live their truth. — Robbie Rogers (@robbierogers) February 10, 2014
For the past 2 days I have met with @MikeSamFootball here in LA. He is a great young man who has shown tremendous courage and leadership
— Jason Collins (@jasoncollins34) February 10, 2014
Congratulations on leading the way, @MikeSamFootball. That’s real sportsmanship.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) February 10, 2014
Nevertheless, the National Football League executives and coaches surveyed by the sports magazine, Sports Illustrated, said that publicly coming out was a “risky move”, as it will mark him as a man on “a lonely path”.
After the announcement, CBSSports.com dropped Sam 70 spots in its draft rankings. Between Sunday and Monday the player dropped from number 90 to 160.
Rob Rang, who works for NFLDraftScout.com and is the CBSSports.com’s main NFL draft analyst, explained that the announcement will affect Sam’s draft stock, but that isn’t the only reason for the big drop. He also pointed out that Sam wasn’t the only player to see his ranking significantly change.
The analyst also said that Sam will be viewed as a distraction for NFL teams and that could cause him to slip, “perhaps even entirely out of the draft.
Michael Sam’s announcement coincides with the Football v Homophobia month of action, the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games and the controversy around the Russian anti-gay laws. His revelation was followed by England’s women’s captain Casey Stoney coming out.
On his future the footballer said to ESPN:
“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.”