Michael Sam, of the Missouri Tigers, has just confirmed that he is an openly gay man.
The NFL hopeful could be the first player to publicly come out the closet in the history of the National Football League if drafted in May.
During his interview on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” Sunday night, Sam says, “I am an openly, proud gay man.”
“I understand how big this is,” he said. “It’s a big deal. No one has done this before. And it’s kind of a nervous process, but I know what I want to be … I want to be a football player in the NFL.”
Sam also admits that although he confided in his teammates a year ago, he wasn’t aware that so many around him were already aware of his sexual orientation — something he learned of during the Senior Bowl two weeks ago.
“I didn’t realize how many people actually knew, and I was afraid that someone would tell or leak something out about me,” he said. “I want to own my truth. … No one else should tell my story but me.”
“Coaches just wanted to know a little about ourselves, our majors, where we’re from, and something that no one knows about you,” Sam said. “And I used that opportunity just to tell them that I was gay. And their reaction was like, ‘Michael Sam finally told us.’ ”
On what that moment felt like Sam reveals, “I was kind of scared, even though they already knew. Just to see their reaction was awesome. They supported me from Day One. I couldn’t have better teammates. … I’m telling you what: I wouldn’t have the strength to do this today if I didn’t know how much support they’d given me this past semester.”
Sam also recalled his upbringing in Hitchcock, Texas and his uncertainty about his orientation growing up.
“I knew from a young age that I was attracted to guys,” he said, “I didn’t know if it was a phase … I didn’t want to say, ‘Hey, I might be gay. I might be bi.’ I just didn’t know … I wanted to find who I was and make sure I knew what was comfortable. So I didn’t tell anyone growing up.”
“I endured so much in my past: seeing my older brother killed from a gunshot wound, not knowing that my oldest sister died when she was a baby and I never got the chance to meet her. My second oldest brother went missing in 1998, and me and my little sister were the last ones to see him … my other two brothers have been in and out of jail since 8th grade, currently both in jail.
“Telling the world I’m gay is nothing compared to that.”
Following Sam’s interview, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel showed support of the athlete in an official statement saying that he was proud of him.
“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.”
The NFL also released a statement to show their support of Sam.
“We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage,” NFL senior vice president of communications Greg Aiello said in the statement. “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.”