The National Football League is likely to get its first openly gay player next season.
Missouri Tigers defensive lineman Michael Sam announced his homosexuality Sunday night on his personal Twitter feed and in interviews with several media outlets that published the news in the evening. According to ESPN, the Tigers staff and players have known since August that Sam is gay.
“I want to thank everybody for their support and encouragement. … I am proud to tell my story to the world!” Sam wrote on Twitter on Sunday.
Unlike NBA player Jason Collins, who was an unsigned free agent in his 30s when he made a similar announcement, Sam could have a major pro career ahead of him. He was the 2013 Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year and is almost certain to be chosen in the upcoming NFL draft.
“Most NFL draft projections see him as a likely mid-round pick, with some saying Sam could go as high as the third round, with a possible position switch to outside linebacker. He is rated as the 12th-best outside pass rusher in the draft by ESPN Scouts Inc.,” ESPN reported Sunday night.
His resume obviously looks impressive and NFL-worthy — Sam led the SEC in sacks with 11.5 and had 19 other tackles for losses; he was voted the team’s MVP and led the Tigers to a 12-2 record, the SEC championship game and a victory in the Cotton Bowl, and he made some first-team All-America selections.
Sports Illustrated reported Sunday that scouts were divided about Sam, noting that he isn’t big by the standards of NFL linemen.
“Others see Sam, who is 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds, as an undersized defensive end without a true position in the NFL. Of his 11.5 sacks, nine came in three games against what one scout called ‘garbage competition’ — Vanderbilt, Arkansas State and Florida. ‘His numbers are inflated,’ a scout said,” the magazine reported.
One former NFL general manager told Sports Illustrated that the media circus surrounding the NFL’s first openly gay player — and the potential for a barrage of negative publicity and a poisoned locker room in the event anything should go wrong — will “break a tie” against drafting a player.
“Every time. Unless he’s Superman. Why? Not that they’re against gay people. It’s more that some players are going to look at you upside down. Every Tom, Dick and Harry in the media is going to show up, from Good Housekeeping to the Today show. A general manager is going to ask, ‘Why are we going to do that to ourselves?’” the manager told SI on the condition of anonymity.
Immediate reaction was overwhelmingly positive on social media.
“We are a FAMILY. And we support all of our players. Nothing changes,” wrote Kentrell Brothers, a linebacker for the Tigers.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, wrote that “Michael Sam makes me have so much #Mizzou pride. Courage.”