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Report: Sam could be first openly gay player in NFL

By By The Sports Xchange
Published On: Feb 09 2014 09:00:41 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 09 2014 09:00:41 PM CST

Michael Sam, who was the Southeastern Conference defense player of the year while playing for Missouri last season, could become the first openly gay player in the NFL.

He discussed his sexual orientation publically for the first time in an interview with the New York Times.

Sam revealed to Missouri coaches and players during a preseason practice in 2013 that he was gay.

"I looked in their eyes, and they just started shaking their heads -- like, finally, he came out," Sam said Sunday in the Times interview.

It was not revealed to the public then that Sam was gay, however.

Missouri went 12-2 in 2013 and finished with a victory in the Cotton Bowl.

The 6-foot-2, 260-pound Sam was chosen a first-team Associated Press All-American at defensive end.

His Missouri teammates voted him the Tigers' most valuable player.

NFL senior vice president of communications Greg Aiello said in a statement, "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."

However, it remains to be seen whether his public declaration will affect his status for the NFL Draft.

Last April, professional basketball player Jason Collins became the first active male professional athlete in a major North American team sport to come out publicly as gay. He played for the Washington Wizards in 2012-2013, but he is not on an NBA roster this season.

There are no openly gay players in the NFL. In fact, at the moment there are no publicly gay male athletes in any of America's four major male pro team sports -- the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball.

Robbie Rogers is currently on the roster of the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer.

A former member of the United States national team who played professionally in England, Rogers revealed last year he was gay after he announced his retirement. He came out of retirement and joined the Galaxy in 2013 and played 11 games for the team.

Sam, 24, is ranked as the No. 9 defensive end and the No. 90 overall prospect in the upcoming draft by NFLDraftScout.com, which projects him to be taken in the third round.

Sam, who graduated from Missouri in December, told the Times he decided to announce his sexual orientation publicly now because he believed rumors were circulating.

"I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it," said Sam, who also spoke with ESPN on Sunday. "I just want to own my truth."

His coach at Missouri, Gary Pinkel, issued a supportive statement Sunday night.

"We're really happy for Michael that he's made the decision to announce this, and we're proud of him and how he represents Mizzou," Pinkel said. "Michael is a great example of just how important it is to be respectful of others, he's taught a lot of people here first-hand that it doesn't matter what your background is, or your personal orientation, we're all on the same team and we all support each other. If Michael doesn't have the support of his teammates like he did this past year, I don't think there's any way he has the type of season he put together."

Missouri athletic director Mike Alden released a statement that read in part, "We are so proud of Michael for what he has accomplished at Mizzou academically, socially and competitively. 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.

"We work very hard at the University of Missouri to provide an environment that is respectful and inclusive of all people. We're pleased with the strides we've made over the years with our student-athletes, coaches and staff about respecting and celebrating our differences. We continue to grow every day."

ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported that NFL personnel said scouts already knew about Sam's sexual orientation.

It is debatable whether Sam will be welcomed by the NFL's rank and file.

Antigay statements by players have created negative publicity for the NFL.

Punter Chris Kluwe was released by the Minnesota Vikings last May, and he believes his public declarations regarding gay rights were partially responsible for his release. Kluwe also accused Vikings assistant coach Mike Priefer of bigotry.

New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma said in a recent interview with NFL Network that he did not want a gay teammate.

"I think he would not be accepted as much as we think he would be accepted," Vilma said.

The NFL has a policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.

A few former pro players declared they were gay after they retired, including Dave Kopay, who played in the NFL in the 1970s.

Sam plans to attend the scouting combine with the hope of being drafted.

"I'm not naive," Sam said in the Times interview. "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."

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