"I'm Michael Sam. I'm a football player and I'm gay," Sam, a
defensive lineman, said in the video. "I just want to own my truth
before anyone breaks a story about me."
Even as 17 states and the federal government have moved toward
expanding gay rights, including same-sex marriage, U.S. sports have
been seen as lagging in its acceptance of gay and lesbian athletes.
Gay rights organizations greeted Sam's announcement with enthusiasm.
Sarah Kate Ellis, the president of GLAAD, a media advocacy
organization, said Sam had "rewritten the script for countless young
"With acceptance of (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) people
rising across our coasts — in our schools, churches, and workplaces — it's clear that America is ready for an openly gay football star,"
she said in a statement.
The NFL also released a statement on Sunday in support of Sam.
"We admire Michael Sam's honesty and courage. Michael is a football
player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the
NFL," the league said in a statement on its website. "We look
forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014."
Sam was a defensive lineman for the University of Missouri's Mizzou
Tigers until he graduated in December.
Sam, a 6-foot, 2-inch (188-cm), 260-pound (118-kg) pass rusher, was
named Defensive Player of the Year in the Southeastern Conference
(SEC) after leading the SEC with 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for a
loss, and was projected to be mid-round pick in the upcoming
seven-round NFL draft.
The draft will be held May 8 to 10 at New York's Radio City Music
Sam could not immediately be reached for comment.
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In the Times video, Sam said that when he first spoke with his
teammates about his sexuality last August, they rallied around him
and supported him.
"Is this a huge deal? I understand that it is. But my purpose and
focus right now is playing football," he said. "I probably may be
the first but I won't be the last. And I think only good things is
gonna come from this."
Brian Ellner, a gay-rights activist and board member of the group
Athlete Ally, said, "We expect the leadership at NFL teams around
the country, and the league itself, to wholeheartedly embrace the
change that is not only sweeping our nation in the form of law, but
also defining our playing fields and culture.
"How Michael Sam is received on the professional level will go a
long way in defining the NFL's legacy," Ellner said.
Last April, veteran basketball player Jason Collins revealed he was
gay in a Sports Illustrated article. The announcement was made after
the regular season, and Collins, who was nearing the end of his
career, was not subsequently signed for the 2013-2014 season.
Collins was the first openly gay athlete in any of North America's
four major professional sports leagues, though he never competed as
an openly gay player.
Sam, should he be drafted as expected and make an NFL roster in the
2014 season, would become the first openly gay player to compete in
any of North America's four major professional sports leagues — football, baseball, basketball and hockey.
(Additional reporting by Larry Fine; editing by Eric Walsh)
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