Former University of Missouri defensive end and NFL prospect Michael Sam announced on Sunday in interviews that he is gay.
Sam first spoke publicly about his sexual orientation with The New York Times' John Branch, but he also discussed his decision to come out on ESPN's Outside the Lines. Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel passes along an inspiring quote from the former Tiger:
Michael Sam on ESPN: "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"— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) February 10, 2014
The NFL has already responded to this news with an official statement, which ESPN gives us a look at:
The NFL's statement on NFL Draft Prospect Michael Sam announcing he's gay. >> pic.twitter.com/Mnz412VCnp— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) February 10, 2014
Shortly after, Sam took to Twitter to thank the football world for the support he has received:
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive commented on the announcement via Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press:
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive on Michael Sam: "It takes an incredible amount of courage to break ground on a social issue on a national stage.— Ralph D. Russo (@ralphDrussoAP) February 10, 2014
Robbie Rogers of the LA Galaxy, and another athlete who has announced he is gay, was quick to offer his support:
Very happy for Michael Sam. His courage will inspire millions to live their truth.— Robbie Rogers (@robbierogers) February 10, 2014
On Monday, Michelle Obama provided a statement to Sam on Twitter:
You're an inspiration to all of us, @MikeSamFootball. We couldn't be prouder of your courage both on and off the field. -mo— FLOTUS (@FLOTUS) February 10, 2014
The 6'2", 255-pound lineman is a tremendous young player. As a senior, he recorded 11.5 sacks and 19.0 tackles for loss, according to Sports-Reference.com. Helping the Tigers to a 12-2 record and a win in the Cotton Bowl, he won Co-Defensive Player of the Year in the SEC, a conference typically brimming with defensive talent.
As a result, he is expected to be selected as soon as Day 2 of the draft. CBS Sports ranks him as the No. 9 DE and a projected third-round pick, while ESPN (subscription required) has him a little lower, rating him as the No. 16 DE.
CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman talks about Sam's talent:
Michael Sam was picked by SEC Coaches as the SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year. Coaches I spoke to always raved about his motor.— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) February 10, 2014
One looming question remains, though: Will this affect his draft stock?
According to a veteran NFL player, via Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman, it may just depend on what team is interested in him, as some locker rooms are more accepting than others:
One veteran player on Sam: "Half of the NFL's locker rooms will accept him and half won't. It's a roll of the dice…"— mike freeman (@mikefreemanNFL) February 10, 2014
Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Richie Incognito, who has been in the news in recent months regarding off-field incidents, commented on Sam's courage in wake of the announcement:
ESPN's Bomani Jones, however, isn't convinced the problem will be in the locker room:
the problems michael sam will face won’t really come from the locker room. it’ll be from the public. hope we don’t embarrass ourselves.— Bomani Jones (@bomani_jones) February 10, 2014
When it comes down to it, Sam's sexual orientation has no bearing on his ability to play football. As such, this news should have zero effect on how teams evaluate his future.
Nevertheless, we still live in a society where coming out as gay isn't easy because public acceptance isn't universal. That makes Sam's announcement incredibly brave, as both Matt Miller and Michael Schottey of Bleacher Report point out:
Coming out as gay two weeks before the Combine is one of the bravest things I've seen in my time in the media.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 10, 2014
You don’t have to have any “stance” to realize that Michael Sam is the bravest player in the draft.— Michael Schottey (@Schottey) February 10, 2014
No matter what effect this has on his draft stock in a couple of months, there's a ton of risk involved in making this statement. Certain NFL personnel, via Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples, have already said it will hurt Sam's stock:
What did NFL personnel people tell our guys about Sam's announcement? That it will drop him in the draft. http://t.co/JRugAkkhnO— Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) February 10, 2014
Sam had to know that might happen. And because of that, you have to applaud him for having the immense courage to be himself at an excruciatingly difficult time.
Unfortunately, this may also serve as a distraction. According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, Sam's reps are already working with the NFL to keep talk of this news at a minimum during the upcoming combine:
Sam's reps, Cameron Weiss & Joe Barkett, are working w league to find amicable solution for demands at Combine so he can focus on testing— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) February 10, 2014
If Sam eventually signs with an NFL team—not really that big of an "if"—he will become the first openly gay player in the league, per Branch.
Soon after that, he'll hopefully just be known as another mid-round steal.