INDIANAPOLIS — As one of Michael Sam's best friends, Missouri receiver L'Damian Washington was one of the first people to find out Sam was gay.
"That's my guy," Washington said Friday at the NFL scouting combine. "I found out before he told the team."
And that's why Washington has a great perspective on Sam's journey, from him telling the Mizzou teammates of his sexuality in August to Sam making the nationwide announcement a few weeks ago. Washington has earned even more respect for the teammate he got close to the minute they met while taking their official visits together out of high school.
"Mike Sam is the toughest guy I know," Washington said. "He knew what was going to come of it. He was ready for it all. He’s fearless, he’s courageous."
Would Washington ever be that brave to bare his soul in such a public way?
"Oh, no," Washington said. "That takes some guts. He’s more man than me."
NFL teams have a decision to make on Sam, and even with many clubs issuing statements at the time of his announcement as well as answering questions about it this week, saying in essence they will evaluate Sam as a football player first and foremost, there is a belief that it might be harder for an older player, coach or scout to accept Sam's sexuality than his younger teammates, who might be more accepting.
Washington is baffled by this narrative.
"We had guys 17 years old out of high school on the team [when Sam told the team first]," Washington said. "I mean, at 17 years old, you’re pretty immature. But those guys embraced him because he’s a great guy and a great leader and never brought any of that to the locker room.
"If a 17-year-old freshman can accept the fact that a teammate has a different [sexual] preference, why can’t a 33-year-old vet accept that fact?"
Washington also is shocked that people are doubting Sam's skill on the field.
"I think he has a bright future," Washington said. "The guy can play. SEC defensive player of the year. That doesn’t happen by mistake."
Washington also is happy that his friend can start the process of moving on, even if he'll face an avalanche of media attention on Saturday. But Washington isn't worried how Sam — who received a hero's ovation when he was announced at a recent Mizzou hoops game — will handle himself given how secure he is.
"I think he’s happy with who he is," Washington. He doesn’t shy away from who he is. He’s got a loud personality. He’s a great guy.
"You need one team, one team that believes in you. I think his chances are good."
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