Sam said he came to his teammates in the summer of 2013 and said he wanted to discuss his sexual orientation publicly on his terms.
“I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” Sam told the New York Times. “I just want to own my truth.”
Sam said that he told teammates during a team-building exercise at practice. Each member of the team was asked to reveal something about themselves that teammates didn't know.
“I looked in their eyes, and they just started shaking their heads — like, finally, he came out,” Sam told the Times.
He said he's never had any problems with teammates and said once he came out to his teammates that he knew who he was -- a Missouri football player who happens to be gay. He told ESPN he had previously dated another Missouri athlete.
As a redshirt senior, Sam was the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. He had three-sack games three different times and finished with 11.5 sacks. In the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma State, he forced a fumble that DE Shane Ray returned for a touchdown to seal Missouri's 41-31 win and a 12-2 season.
“We are so proud of Michael for what he has accomplished at Mizzou academically, socially and competitively," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said in a statement Sunday evening. "This is a young man who earned his degree from MU, was a unanimous All-American on the football field and now he’s being a leader in his personal life. He continues to display great character, courage and compassion. We are proud of him on every level. He is expected to be an early round draft choice in May's NFL draft.
As of now, upon his selection, he'll be the NFL's first openly gay player. He projects as a linebacker in the NFL and worked at the position during the Senior Bowl in January. He's planning to attend the NFL combine in Indianapolis from Feb. 22-25.
“I’m not naive,” 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 NFL."
Sam said the first two teammates he told about his sexual orientation were WR L'Damian Washington and DT Marvin Foster. He told them both a year ago. Washington was in Sam's group when Sam brought it up at practice.
“I knew that something was about to come because of the way he was balling up the paper in his hands,” Washington told the Times. “He kept rolling it up. So I kind of knew something was coming, but I didn’t think it was that.”
Earlier in January, Willamette kicker Conner Mertens became the first active college football player to come out. While Sam's college career may be over, his is much more impactful given his stature as a standout defensive end in college football's most popular conference as well as his impending selection in the NFL draft.
Sam told ESPN that expects negative feedback but that the positives will outweigh the negatives.
The NFL released a statement Sunday evening through spokesperson Greg Aiello on Twitter.
Sam's decision to go public with his sexual orientation isn't one that shouldn't affect that draft stock. Players have been candid about having gay teammates in the past, even if no player has come out while playing before. Sam announcing he's gay isn't something that should cause him to slide down draft boards. However, NFL personnel interviewed by Sports Illustrated indicated the opposite. If true, the reactions are terribly unfortunate and uneducated.
A report two years ago suggested most NFL players wouldn't have any issue with a gay teammate. It's likely an even bigger percentage now who wouldn't give it any mind. Just look at the support from Sam's Missouri teammates. While there will unfortunately always be cases of bullying in the NFL, Sam will likely have the same support from his future teammates in the NFL. And he may inspire other current players to make the same decision that he did.
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