University of Missouri’s Michael Sam, a football defensive end, today told ESPN that he is gay, becoming one of the nation’s first openly LGBT NFL prospects.
“By rewriting the script for countless young athletes, Michael has demonstrated the leadership that, along with his impressive skills on the field, makes him a natural fit for the NFL,” said GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis. “With acceptance of LGBT people rising across our coasts — in our schools, churches, and workplaces — it’s clear that America is ready for an openly gay football star.”
Sam was a defensive end for Mizzou Tigers of the University of Missouri. He graduated in December and is currently a highly-touted prospect in the National Football League (NFL) draft. He becomes the first publicly gay athlete in any of the Big 4 sports drafts.
In interviews with The New York Times and ESPN tonight, the football player stated: “I am an openly, proud gay man.”
In December 2013, The Associated Press named him the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year. He was also selected as one of ten unanimous first-team all-Americans. He led the SEC in both sacks and tackles-for-loss and resides in the top 10 nationally in Division I in those categories. He is originally from Hitchcock, Texas. Sports journalist Cyd Zeigler stated to GLAAD: “Every NFL draft expert has Sam being selected in the first to fifth round of this year’s NFL draft.”
“Michael is first and foremost a talented football player, and his humility and heart will reshape the way that Americans think about LGBT people and the sports world,” said Wade Davis, Jr., a gay former NFL player and Executive Director of LGBT sports organization You Can Play. “His story sends a message to LGBT young people, especially young black men, that you are free to show up in the world as your authentic self and others will embrace you. When I came out after playing in the NFL, I felt the support from fans, teammates and the league and I know he will be embraced and continue to inspire.”
In an NFL document released in April 2013, the NFL defined 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, You Can Play 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.
Updated 2/9/14: The NFL has released the following 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.”