On the last meaningful play of Mizzou’s 2013 football season–a season that saw the 12-2 Tigers ranked fifth in the country, a season that vindicated their loudly questioned invitation to the Southeastern Conference, a season the school desperately needed to have, a season Mizzou could not have had without number 52–defensive end Michael Sam burst around the corner, absolutely abusing the poor bastard tasked with containing the SEC co-defensive player of the year. Sam got to Oklahoma State quarterback Clint Chelf, who was leading what seemed like a last minute Cotton Bowl winning drive, and stripped the ball from his right arm as he dragged Chelf to the ground. That was sack 11.5 for Sam. That number topped the SEC and tied a school record, which he now shares with NFL star Aldon Smith. Mizzou needed one more play. Sam, on the last play of his college career, gave it to them. Defensive end Shane Ray scooped up the fumble and sprinted toward the end zone, scoring the touchdown that sealed the win for the Tigers as Gus Johnson had his 9,567th excitement-induced aneurism.
I was high up in the stands of AT&T Stadium, drunk, and losing my mind as that play unfolded. I threw the most awkward of white guy high fives to everyone around me. I knew back then that Michael Sam was gay. I had known for months. It was an “open secret” in Columbia, Mo., and one that I discovered in October 2013. I could not have given less of a shit about his sexual orientation in that moment. We won. M-I-Z. End of story. I didn’t really care back in October either. Sure, it was certainly some interesting gossip, and I was definitely curious to see how that rumor was going to play out. Sam was in the middle of a remarkable senior season, and his NFL draft stock was skyrocketing with each sack, each tackle for a loss (he had 19 of those as well, which also led the SEC). Michael Sam was going to get drafted. He wasn’t ever a first-rounder–he’s undersized and may have to switch positions–but he is a solid, mid-round prospect. Judgmentally speaking, however, I didn’t care. From what I could tell, everyone else who was in on the secret, which was A LOT of students and other people in the Mizzou community, weren’t too concerned either. They only cared that Michael Sam was a Missouri Tiger, and a damn good one.
Myself and everyone else who knew about Sam wondered if he would come out of the closet before the draft. Would he come out at all? Now we have our answer. Yes, Michael Sam has come out as gay. Unless a currently employed player in the MLB, NBA, NHL, or NFL comes out between now and the start of the 2014 NFL season, Michael Sam will most likely be the first major American athlete to be an out homosexual during his career. Robbie Rogers is an active, out of the closet MLS player currently playing for the LA Galaxy, but since the MLS is still a second tier league, and because America’s general attitude toward soccer is already, “Huh, GAYYY-YEEEEEE,” because that’s something French people like (along with dicks, surrendering, and surrendering to dicks) his revelation didn’t hold quite the same weight.
While Sam is not an Andrew Luck, first pick, possible future Hall of Fame talent–though, hey, anything could happen–it stands to reason that he could have a decent, if not very good, career. Missouri’s defensive players, under head coach Gary Pinkel and defensive coordinator Dave Steckel, have done well in the NFL. Sean Weatherspoon, William Moore, Aldon Smith, Ziggy Hood, and Sheldon Richardson are all good players. Kony Ealy and E.J. Gaines, two Tigers joining Sam in this draft class, project to be pretty good as well. Michael Sam has the chance to be the first out gay, active professional athlete, and that’s a big deal. It’s an even bigger deal, though, because he could actually be pretty damn good.
Good for you, Michael Sam. Though the media and professional response has been overwhelmingly positive, to argue that this didn’t take an insane amount of courage would be ridiculous. The first one through the wall always gets bloodied, and Michael Sam’s future is far from certain. Michael Sam had the balls be to be the first one through this wall, and that deserves respect.
But Michael Sam wasn’t doing this for respect, and he certainly wasn’t doing this for attention. Anyone familiar with Sam knows that’s not his style. Though he is known as an outspoken teammate and leader–exuberant sack celebration aside–Michael Sam is a pretty humble guy. The kid grew up in nowhere Texas. Three of his siblings are dead, one of whom he watched die. Two others are in jail. He was a two star prospect out of high school. He’s been facing long odds his whole life, so this is nothing new to him. Michael Sam simply did this because he knows who he is and is completely open about it.
If you find all the coverage of Sam’s coming out as obnoxious, even if it’s for stupid reasons, I don’t necessarily disagree with you. Yes, it is dumb that we have to pay so much attention to a player’s sexual orientation. Michael Sam likes men, so what? That has as much of an effect on his ability to play football professionally as another NFL player’s love of strippers has on his own ability. Actually, Michael Sam liking men probably has less of an effect than other NFL players liking strippers. NFL players do terrible, career-ruining things at strip clubs. Oh, what Pacman Jones’ career could have been if only he were a mild-mannered gay man.
Can Michael Sam play? That’s all I ever cared about, and at Missouri, yeah, the consensus All-American could flat out play. If he ends up on your NFL team, “can he play?” should be the only real concern. Despite the Jonathan Vilmas of the world, having a gay player in the locker room probably won’t MASSIVELY ERODE the apparently pathetically fickle nature of an NFL team’s morale (which I guess is forged in the showers?). Yeah, that sounds straight. Sam came out to the entire Mizzou team back in August. I’m pretty sure their season turned out okay. He was voted a team captain before the season and team MVP afterwards, by the very teammates who knew he was gay. And hey, if homophobia is as rampant in the NFL as team execs claim, why not draft Sam? No opposing lineman is going to want to block him and risk havin’ the gay rub off.
Again, to claim Michael Sam came out for attention is absurd. The fact of the matter is that this story was going to get out whether Sam wanted it to or not. As I said, A LOT of people knew about this before yesterday. While the announcement was planned and rehearsed, NFL scouts knew about Sam already, and multiple news outlets were going to break the story ahead of the announcement. Sam wanted to control the story, and that’s why he made the announcement, which was actually pushed up to Sunday to avoid having this news be announced by anyone other than himself. In fact, it’s a freakin’ miracle the story didn’t leak much earlier. A secret so explosive, openly circulating, and essentially confirmed–around a community known for its top tier journalism school and heavily connected in the media world–could have been written about in great detail long ago. Some reporter could have made a name for himself or herself writing an exposé about a dominant, highly-lauded SEC player being gay. Hell, I’m pretty sure if I had felt like it I could have done enough legwork to break the story and back it with credible evidence after I found out. That’s seriously how easy it could have been. The fact that people in Columbia and around Mizzou had enough respect for Sam to keep this quiet, and the outpouring of support I see now for Sam, makes me as proud to be a Tiger as I’ve ever been. This is basically the opposite of Norfolk State Day.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Michael Sam is actually doing his best to minimize this story, which was going to be humongous no matter how it as revealed. He isn’t giving any more interviews now that he’s delivered his message to the media. His interview on ESPN was one of the least drama-filled things you will ever watch, especially considering the magnitude of the announcement. Sam and his agents want this story to lose steam. All Michael Sam wants to do is get ready for the draft and play football. If you think the coverage of Sam’s announcement is ridiculous now, imagine the chaotic shitshow it would have been if half a dozen news outlets were fighting for the details of the story, making a big show out of every new little piece of evidence they unearthed, and declaring BREAKING NEWS. Though, to be honest, part of me is disappointed that didn’t happen, because I would have endlessly enjoyed “investigative journalists” making total assholes of themselves as they bothered the patrons of the two gay bars in Columbia. There’s a decent chance one of them would have just walked around with a picture of Michael Sam asking, “Have you ever grinded on this man? You don’t recognize him? *rubs glitter on the picture* How about now?” TV journalists reporting off the cuff, they’re just the worst. The truth is, Sam executed this as quickly and cleanly as possible.
If you are averse to this story because, “Gays r phags and I hate them,” at least, with some rational part of your mind, understand that this was inevitable. The announcement and the media circus were bound to happen at some point, with some player. You can kick and scream all you want, but you’d be better served just ripping off the Band-Aid. Besides, you only have to tolerate the guy and the movement. Tolerance is, essentially, inaction. You don’t have to do anything. Just let it pass by. Is that so fucking hard?
As for me, I’m just happy that a Missouri Tiger is happy. It’s cool to watch some major history unfold as well, but I am rooting no harder for Michael Sam now than I was before, because I simply couldn’t have rooted any harder for him than I already was. Still, I’m incredibly proud of Sam and Mizzou. This is a big moment, even if it shouldn’t have to be. Michael Sam is gay, we all know that now, and an interesting story is about to unfold. But this is all we really need to know about Michael Sam.