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"My name is Michael Sam. I'm a football player and I'm gay."
This is the quote Michael Sam told The New York Times this past week. Sam took the sporting world by surprise early last week when he officially came out as a proud openly gay man. Why is this such a big deal? Because Sam was the SEC Co-Defensive player of the year this past season and will be entering the 2014 draft, which will make him the first ever openly gay NFL player.
It was no secret to Sam's teammates and coaches at Missouri who Sam was prior to his announcement. He still remembers the first time he came out to anybody.
"We were supposed to stand up and say our name and something about ourselves," said Sam referring to the "get to know you" type introductions with the team. "So I stood up and said, ‘I'm Michael, and I'm gay.'"
The coaches reactions were really more of a sigh of relief according to Sam. Turns out they knew the whole time. He has always had great support from close friends and teammates, he says he even dated a fellow athlete who was not a football player. Still, it was a difficult task to tell the world publicly who he was. He didn't want people to hear about it from anybody else other than himself.
"I didn't realize how many people actually knew and I was afraid that someone would tell or leak something about me," said Sam. "I want to own my truth...No one else should tell my story."
He went on to say, "I couldn't have better teammates... I'm telling you what: I wouldn't have the strength to do this today if I didn't know how much support they'd given me this past year."
But how will that support transfer to the NFL and how will his situation affect his draft stock and career? In the last six drafts, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year has been selected in the first round. There is a chance that he could be taken later because coaches may not want to deal with controversy in the locker room. The skill is clearly there. Sam had 11.5 sacks this past season in the toughest division in college football. He is 6'2" 266lbs which gives him the size needed to play at the highest level. Could coming out put a damping on his skills? Some would like to think that any team that takes him will support him 100%.
"I just want to go to the team who drafts me," Sam said. "Because that team knows about me, knows that I'm gay, and also knows that I work hard. It's a workplace. If you've ever been in a Division 1 or pro locker room, it's a business place. You want to act professionally."
Michael Sam is ready for the NFL and it seems that the league is anxiously awaiting his arrival as well. The NFL's official statement read as follows;
"We admire Michael Sam's honesty and courage. Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014."
Even President Barack Obama got in on the frenzy. His tweet read:
"Congratulations on leading the way, Michael Sam. That's real Sportsmanship."
It seems that everybody is prepared and anxious to take this next step into the future of sports, but only time will tell if pro sports are ready to break down the barriers of discrimination against the LGBT community.