Michael Sam: The First Openly Gay Player in the NFL
Although some sports personalities have made the decision to tell the world that they are gay, they tend to wait until after retiring before making the big reveal, with only a brave handful coming out during their career.
But American-footballer Michael Sam decided he was going to try a different approach. In February this year, the defender announced that he was gay, only a couple of months before the 2014 draft National Football League, or NFL as it is better known. There were no openly gay football players in the NFL – could Michael have destroyed his chances?
Fast forward to earlier this month, and the NFL draft. Picked in the seventh round by Missouri’s St Louis Rams, the same state he had just graduated college from, Michael Sam’s dreams came true – and he had also made history by becoming the first ever openly gay player to be drafted in the NFL.
Michael said that he doesn’t regret anything about his announcement in February and that whichever team picked him would have done so knowing about his sexuality.
In a question-and-answer session three days after the draft, Michael made it clear that his focus is on his dream of making it into the team. “And if it inspires people, then, hey, I’m with you,” he said. “Anyone that is not okay with that; if someone disowns you, hey, be a part of my family, I will welcome you.”
And inspiring people is something he is already well on his way to doing. A message was posted onto the Facebook page of the University of Missouri, where Michael graduated, by a father who had watched the draft with his son and various other members of his family.
“When Michael Sam was finally drafted, my 15-year-old son started crying and told me he is gay,” the father wrote. “Thank you Mizzou for embracing Mr Sam and recruiting a young man of his calibre so that kids like my son have more positive role models to look to.”
Rams General Manager Les Snead compared Michael’s accomplishment to that of Kenny Washington, who became the first African-American to get into the NFL after World War II, also picked by the Rams but when they played in LA in California. “Somewhere in the future, guess what? [Michael Sam is] just going to be a name and a dot that some kid in middle school has got to memorise,” he explained. “We won’t think it is anything special because it will be normal.”
The Oprah Winfrey Network has since announced that it will be producing a documentary series following Michael’s journey, but will be working with the team to make sure the show does not interfere with his football.
In a statement, Oprah Winfrey said that the network feels honoured to be trusted with Michael’s story. “The next real-life story we follow in The Untitled Michael Sam Project promises to spark valuable, important discussion on life in America today,” she said. “Acceptance and illumination start here.”