By Seth Adam, GLAAD’s Senior Manager of Communications
History was made today as openly gay football player Michael Sam was drafted to the National Football League (NFL). Sam will be playing for the St. Louis Rams.
“Without a doubt, this is a game changer,” said GLAAD President & CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “Today, Michael Sam has redefined what it takes to be a champion. He’s tackled stereotypes and joins the ranks of athletic trailblazers like Jason Collins and Brittney Griner in showing Americans that there’s no place for homophobia on the field. As support for equality continues to surge, it’s clear that sports fans are ready, football is ready, and America is ready for its first openly gay NFL player.”
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In February interviews with The New York Times and ESPN, Sam first stated: “I am an openly, proud gay man.”
In December 2013, The Associated Press named Sam the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year. He was also selected as one of 10 unanimous first-team all-Americans. He led the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in both sacks and tackles-for-loss and resides in the top 10 nationally in Division I in those categories.
Sam is the among several high-profile athletes to come out as LGBT recently, with others including the NBA’s Jason Collins, the WNBA’s Brittney Griner, NCAA Division I basketball player Derrick Gordon, WWE’s Darren Young, UFC’s Liz Carmouche, MMA’s Fallon Fox, and Major League Soccer’s Robbie Rogers.
In an NFL document released in April 2013, the league described its equal employment opportunity policy as: “It is the policy of the National Football League to provide equal employment opportunities to all employees and applicants for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation or other status protected by applicable federal, state or local law.”
In the document, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell also stated: “The NFL has a long history of valuing diversity and inclusion. Discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation is not consistent with our values and is unacceptable in the National Football League.”
The NFL added sexual orientation to its list of protected classes in September 2011.
The NFL has also demonstrated its commitment to inclusion by participating in GLAAD’s annual anti-bullying campaign, Spirit Day. For the past two consecutive years, the NFL has ‘gone purple’ online in a stand against bullying and to show its support for LGBT youth. In December 2013, the You Can Play Project and the NFL announced the ‘High Five Initiative,’ an “effort to create meaningful connections between LGBT youth and leaders within the professional sports community.” Troy Vincent and Dwight Hollier, former NFL players and NFL player engagement executives, visited the Hetrick Martin Institute, the nation’s largest and oldest LGBT youth services organization, yesterday to do just that. The league is also collaborating with You Can Play and You Belong for the second annual You Belong LGBTQ Sports and leadership initiative.