"We admire Michael Sam's honesty and courage," the statement reads. "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."
Despite the league’s statement, it will be up to teams to make the decision on whether or not to sign Sam. There have previously been several NFL players who came out, but only after their careers were over. Unidentified NFL coaches and executives told Sports Illustrated that they think Sam's draft stock will suffer because of his announcement.
“I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet,” an NFL player personnel assistant told SI. “In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”
Brendon Ayanbadejo, a “straight ally” who played in the league from 2003 to 2012, addressed the NFL’s tolerance in a column for Fox Sports.
“Now his biggest hurdle is entering a league that has never had an openly gay player. A league that reaches headlines several times a year due to its lack of acceptance and inclusion of and from its players,” Ayanbadejo wrote. “Will the NFL prove us all wrong or will it continue to be considered one of the last bastions of homophobia?”
Last season, four players were reportedly planning on coming out on the same day – a way to deflect the impact of the news – but those announcements never occurred.
Now, Sam could be the first.