Michael Sam Expected to Be First Publicly Gay NFL Player

University of Missouri defensive lineman announces he’s gay ahead of NFL draft.

In this Sept. 21, 2013, file photo, Missouri's Michael Sam (52) sings the school song after Missouri defeated Indiana in an NCAA college football game in Bloomington, Ind. The All-American athlete says he is gay, and the defensive end could become the first openly homosexual player in the NFL.

Michael Sam, University of Missouri's former defensive end, is expected to be the first openly gay player in the NFL.  

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Michael Sam, a defensive lineman on the University of Missouri football team that finished 12-2 this season, revealed he was gay in interviews with ESPN and The New York Times posted Sunday evening. A promising draft prospect who was named the SEC’s 2013 Defensive Player of the Year, Sam is expected to be the first publicly gay player in the NFL in a watershed moment for a league plagued by a climate considered to be hostile to homosexuality.

Sam says his college teammates have known he was gay since August and were largely supportive throughout the season that ended with Missouri winning the Cotton Bowl; they even voted him the Missouri Tigers’ most valuable player.

According to an OutSports behind-the-scenes account of his decision to reveal his sexuality to the media, Sam and his management wanted to give the league has much time as possible to accept his coming out before the NFL draft in May, where he had been expected to draft has high as the third round. Original plans for him to reveal his sexuality after the NFL scouting combine later this month were pushed up out of fear that the story would leak early.

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While current and former NFL players have already expressed their support for Sam, NFL personnel and coaches speaking anonymously to Sports Illustrated  said that Sam’s decision to come out would hurt his standing for the draft. LGBT activists have been working within the sports community to make it a more open place for gay athletes. Nevertheless, a number of NFL players have made homophobic comments in recent months and a straight player has suggested that he was let go from his team in part because he was an outspoken advocate for same-sex marriage.  

Veteran NBA player Jason Collins came out about his homosexuality in April 2013, becoming the first current professional athlete in an American team sport to do so. However, in part perhaps because he is 35 years old and past the peak of his career, he is still a free agent. A number of former NFL players have came out after retiring, including former NFL player Esera Tuaolo, who told BuzzFeed that “I truly believe a lot of players in the NFL are going to rally around him.”