Michael Sam, one of the best defensive players of the 2013 college football season, came out as gay in an interview with ESPN on Feb. 9. “I am an openly proud gay man,” Sam, a six-foot-two, 255-pound, punishing All-American linebacker for the Missouri Tigers, told ESPN. As the 2014 NFL draft approaches, he's now poised to become the first openly gay player in the history of the National Football League.
Sam first came out to his college teammates and coaches in August, during a preseason team-building exercise. They’ve been wholly supportive, he told The New York Times, with some accompanying him to gay bars and one teammate attending a gay pride event with him in St. Louis. But it remains to be seen if Sam’s new teammates—he’s predicted to be either a third- or a fourth-round pick in May’s NFL Draft—will welcome him with the same open arms.
Though Sam’s announcement was largely well-received by NFL players and executives on Twitter, Chris Kluwe, a former NFL punter and gay rights advocate, told Deadspin last month that he heard gay slurs from a Minnesota Vikings assistant coach and believed he was cut because of his support for same-sex marriage, an allegation the team denies. Just last week, New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma said he worried about showering at the same time as a gay teammate. “It just so happens he looks at me, how am I supposed to respond?” Vilma told the NFL Network.
As Sam prepares for this month’s NFL combine, where players are rated ahead of the draft, here’s hoping he’s judged not on his sexual orientation but on the meritocracy of the NFL—that is, can he sack the quarterback? Can he drop back and cover tight ends in third down nickel packages? Can he, in short, help his team win?
(Photo: Stacy Revere/Getty Images)