Feb. 10, 2014— -- Football players, coaches and personalities had a range of reactions to prospective NFL player Michael Sam’s announcement that he’s gay.
Sam, an All-America defensive lineman with the University of Missouri, identified himself as “an openly, proud gay man” in interviews with ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” and the New York Times.
If he is selected in this year’s NFL draft – scouts slated him as a third- to fifth-round pick – he would be the first openly gay player in NFL history.
Sam came out to his college teammates last summer, but decided to make his announcement in order to control the way the story was spread.
“I want to own my truth,” he told ESPN’s Chris Connelly. “Two weeks ago at The Senior Bowl I didn’t realize how many people actually knew, and I was afraid that someone would tell or leak something out about me or tell my story. I just wanted to control the situation and tell my story.”
The announcement drew reaction from the NFL, players, and even Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.
Many football players were supportive of Sam, expressing enthusiasm that the NFL could have its first openly gay active player. Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams believes the focus should be on talent, not sexual orientation.
Seahawks linebacker and Super Bowl XLVIII MVP Malcolm Smith applauded Sam’s courage.
Jets defensive tackle Damon Harrison was also sympathetic.
Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders expressed the need to withhold judgment.
Fabian Washington – who played in the NFL from 2005 until 2010 – is indifferent to the news.
Retired NFL quarterback Shaun King believes that Sam's coming out will bring extra attention to any team that drafts him, but that on-field ability, and not orientation, will determine his NFL potential.
Former wide receiver Patrick Crayton – who played for the Cowboys and Chargers from 2004 to 2011 – doesn’t think Sam should have come out, and believes the announcement will undercut his career.
The NFL issued a statement in support of Sam.
"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.