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Sam could become NFL's 1st openly gay player

By Ralph D. Russo

AP College Football Writer

LAST UPDATED: 12:26 p.m. HST, Feb 10, 2014

Tolerance is about to be tested in the National Football League.

And Michael Sam hopes his ability is all that matters, not his sexual orientation.

Missouri's All-America defensive end came out to the entire country Sunday night and could become the first openly gay player in America's most popular sport.

"I just want to go to the team who drafts me," Sam told ESPN in an interview that aired Sunday, "because that team knows about me, knows that I'm gay, and also knows that I work hard. That's the team I want to go to."

Nobody has ever done this before.

In interviews with ESPN, The New York Times and Outsports, Sam said publicly for the first time that he was gay. He said he came out to his teammates and coaches at Missouri in August.

Sam will participate in the NFL combine later this month in Indianapolis and is projected to be a mid-round draft pick in May.

"Hopefully it will be the same like my locker room," he told ESPN. "It's a workplace. If you've ever been in a Division I or pro locker room, it's a business place. You want to act professional."

Sam received much public support Sunday night from people throughout the world of sports.

"I can't wait to cheer for whatever lucky team that drafts @MikeSamFootball. Personally I hope he goes to my favorite team. The @Colts" tweeted Jason Collins, the pro basketball player who said publicly last season that he is gay.

There also were words of caution.

Offensive lineman Frank Garcia, who played nine seasons (1995-2003) in the NFL with the Panthers, Rams and Cardinals, said Sam could face "huge challenges" in the league.

Garcia was teammates and good friends with defensive lineman Esera Tuaolo, who announced he was gay on HBO's Real Sports in 2002 -- three years after he left the NFL.

Garcia said although he and Tuaolo regularly hung out as teammates in Carolina in 1999, Tuaolo never once let on that he was gay.

"I think a lot of guys in the NFL are going to say they will accept it, but there are a lot of guys who won't," said Garcia, now a sports radio show host with WFNZ-AM in Charlotte. "The reality is Michael Sam is going to open himself up to a lot of criticism and a lot of challenges. Those are challenges most gay people have to go through, but when you are dealing with alpha males and some meatheads in an NFL locker room it's amplified. And there are some guys who have strong religious beliefs, too, so he's going to be judged. He's going to face some things that are going to be very difficult to overcome."

The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Sam participated in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., last month after leading the Southeastern Conference in sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (19). He was the SEC defensive player of the year.

There have been a few NFL players who have come out after their playing days, including Kwame Harris and Dave Kopay.

Collins, a 35-year-old backup center, came out after last season when he was a free agent and was not signed this season. MLS star and U.S. national team player Robbie Rogers also came out a year ago.

"His courage will inspire millions to live their truth," Rogers tweeted about Sam.

Division III Willamette kicker Conner Mertens, a redshirt freshman, said last month he was bisexual.

"We admire Michael Sam's honesty and courage," the NFL said in 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."

Sam's announcement comes at a time gay rights and sports have collided at the Olympics in Sochi. Russia's anti-gay propaganda law has received much attention, and criticism, because of the games.

"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 Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD, a leading lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy organization. "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."

The NFL's sexual orientation, anti-discrimination and harassment policy states:

"Coaches, General Managers and others responsible for interviewing and hiring draft-eligible players and free agents must not seek information concerning or make personnel decisions based on a player's sexual orientation. This includes asking questions during an interview that suggest that the player's sexual orientation will be a factor in the decision to draft or sign him.

"Examples: Do you like women or men? How well do you do with the ladies? Do you have a girlfriend?"

Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams tweeted: "I could care less about a man's sexual preference! i care about winning games and being respectful in the locker room!"

Williams' teammate, cornerback Drayton Florence, posted on his Twitter account: "No comment but it can be a distraction in the locker room. At least he's open with it much respect!"


AP Sports Writer Steve Reed in Charlotte, N.C., contributed to this report.

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inverse wrote:
Wonder if the San Diego Chargers will draft Sam?
on February 10,2014 | 07:03AM
Anonymous wrote:
how many NFL players are openly Heterosexual?
on February 10,2014 | 10:06AM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
He might need his own locker room and shower, I could see many people not wanting him in theirs.
on February 10,2014 | 08:18PM
Anonymous wrote:
What a ridiculous concept. You trying to say the big bad football players are worried about someone looking at their junk? Are they THAT insecure? Wimps.
on February 10,2014 | 08:23PM
serious wrote:
Why does this get so much publicity? But, it's not official unless he gets a congratulatory call from Obama!!
on February 10,2014 | 08:51AM
DowntownGreen wrote:
Hmmmm... could it be because it IS courageous in today's society? He has to deal with the homophobes and the discrimination and if you think that doesn't take courage, you aren't paying attention. This man's life just got WAY more complicated. Good for him.
on February 10,2014 | 09:23AM
puamamane wrote:
Courageous in today's society, are you kidding me!. The amount of praise and positive reaction is nausiating. The Pres and his crew has already come out with high praise and consider him a "hero!" For what.....? Did he save someone's life, rescuse a child, donate to a worthy cause, overcome cancer, donate an organ, die in combat protecting our country? These are the true heros that deserve praise. Is he more of a hero than his teammates? Is he all of a sudan better than them? Gays are untouchable in todays society with the PC crowd, it could'nt be easier. Try coming out 50 years ago, that would have taken some b*lls.
on February 10,2014 | 10:59AM
DowntownGreen wrote:
No, I'm not "kidding". Look at the hate being spewed from "anonymous" sources within the NFL, in the media, and online in fan forums. "Untouchable"? Hardly. But 50 years ago versus now? Yes, it's better, but if you think it didn't take courage for him to do what he did, you aren't paying attention.

I always find it weird that people think there can only be one kind of hero at a time. To many, Mr. Sam, the person saving a life or rescuing a child or donating to a worthy cause or donating an organ or dieing in combat are ALL heroic.

on February 10,2014 | 11:10AM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
Hate? What did he expect, universal acceptance? He knew this would be an attention grabber and that's likely why he did it. Otherwise he would have kept it private where it belongs. It's nobody's business who he sleeps with, no need to sensationalize his private life in the NFL.
on February 10,2014 | 08:27PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
I think it's sort of a publicity stunt to garner attention for the wrong reasons. There's no need to publicly announce you're gay to a locker room full of 300 lb alpha males, all it's going to do is offend many of them and bring unwanted attention to the team.
on February 10,2014 | 08:23PM
noheawilli wrote:
At best he is a 3rd to 5th round draft choice, and he'll be chosen based on how well he does or does not play football, and not judged on whom he chooses to date. So can espn get back to reporting sports and not dating choices?
on February 10,2014 | 09:33AM
michaelnaumu wrote:
Why is it news worthy for one man to put his p_nis into anther man's mouth or a__us?
on February 10,2014 | 12:26PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
Cause it's the NFL, not too many of them running around in the NFL, at least not openly.
on February 10,2014 | 08:29PM
KARLO wrote:
I don't get it. 18 - 22 year old college kids have no problem. Why should the NFL? ThIs sounds like another medie fueled "manufactured crisis."
on February 11,2014 | 07:58AM