SBD/February 10, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Prospect Michael Sam Reveals He's Gay, Would Be League's First Openly Gay Player

Sam insists his focus is on football, not becoming a social activist
NFL Draft prospect and former Univ. of Missouri DE Michael Sam yesterday revealed that he is gay, putting himself "on a path to become the first publicly gay player" in league history, according to a front-page piece by John Branch of the N.Y. TIMES. Sam now "enters an uncharted area of the sports landscape," as he made his "public declaration before he is drafted." Sam could become a "symbol for the country's gay rights movement or a flash point in a football culture war -- or both." Sam is "projected to be chosen in the early rounds of the NFL Draft in May, ordinarily an invitation to a prosperous pro career." He said that he decided to come out publicly now "because he sensed that rumors were circulating." Sam: "I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it." The NFL "has never had a publicly gay player," so it is reasonable for Sam to "wonder what sort of effect -- positive or negative -- his declaration will have on his prospects" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/10). ESPN.com's Chris Connelly reported Sam decided to make the announcement "after his experience two weeks ago at the Senior Bowl, where, he said, many already seemed aware of his sexual orientation." Sam: "I didn't realize how many people actually knew, and I was afraid that someone would tell or leak something out about me." He added that he had "already confided in a few close friends ... and had dated a fellow athlete who was not a football player." The NFL yesterday "released a statement supporting Sam" (ESPN.com, 2/9).

FOCUS ON FOOTBALL: Sam said that his main focus "is on his burgeoning NFL career." In Missouri, David Morrison writes Sam is "not thinking about his role as a trailblazer for other gay football players" (COLUMBIA DAILY TRIBUNE, 2/10). Sam said, "I see myself as football player. I see myself as an individual who is trying to train for the NFL. Jason Collins is an activist; Wade Davis is an activist; David Kopay is an activist. I see myself as a football player" (SI.com, 2/9). In Missouri, Hall & Fairburn report Sam "recently hired publicist Howard Bragman, who is openly gay." Bragman "has represented LGBT athletes, including three-time Olympic women’s basketball gold medalist Sheryl Swoopes and retired NBA player John Amaechi" (Columbia MISSOURIAN, 2/10). Bragman said of Sam, "He's not looking to be a celebrity. He's looking to be a football player" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/10).

MOMENTOUS OCCASION: SI.com's Stewart Mandel writes of Sam's announcement, "The events that truly transcend sports are the ones that change the face of our culture." It is "not presumptuous to suggest" that Sam's announcement "will become one of those seminal moments." Mandel: "It's a certainty. ... In fact, it could be a momentous step on the long road toward the not-too-distant day when a person's sexuality is no longer considered news at all" (SI.com, 2/10). In Philadelphia, Les Bowen writes, "This announcement is the kind of big deal that makes it possible for future such announcements to be less of a big deal" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 2/10). Former NFLer Brendon Ayanbadejo in a special to FOXSPORTS.com writes, "This is one small step for gay men and one giant leap for the LGBTQ community" (FOXSPORTS.com, 2/9). ESPN.com's Dan Graziano wrote, "The manner in which this story is received and covered by the outside world will say a lot about where we are as a society." Reporters have "been covering and anticipating this story for a while without a name or a date." Graziano: "Now that we have both, let's all hope we're as well prepared to handle it as he is" (ESPN.com, 2/9).

BREAKING BARRIERS: In K.C., Vahe Gregorian writes Sam's declaration "was a bold contradiction of stereotypes and possibly stakes new ground in one of the prominent civil rights issues of our time" (K.C. STAR, 2/10). In Houston, Jerome Solomon writes Sam among fellow players "is sure to have more support" than Baseball HOFer Jackie Robinson did as MLB's first black player, but that "doesn't diminish the courage it takes to be the first" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 2/10). SPORTS ON EARTH's Mike Tanier writes Sam is a "21st century Jackie Robinson, a young man whose every step will be scrutinized and every utterance parsed." He will be "hailed, rightfully, as a trailblazer, as a role model for courage, and as a harbinger for social progress." But he also will be "vilified or denounced for his 'sinfulness' by a large segment of the American population." As for his NFL prospects, Sam "is still a tweener: too small" to play DE and "too inexperienced" to play OL. The "obstacles facing the NFL's first openly gay player are difficult to anticipate," but one can anticipate the obstacles that "face tweeners in this league" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 2/10). In K.C., Sam Mellinger writes nearly 70 years after Robinson integrated MLB, "professional sports should be further along than this." Sam "shouldn't have to be in this position" (K.C. STAR, 2/10).
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