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Missouri’s Sam may become NFL’s first openly gay player

Holder extends same-sex marriage rights

Merdies Hayes | 2/13/2014, midnight
Michael Sam

The announcement last weekend from Michael Sam, All-American lineman from the University of Missouri, that he is gay could mean he may become the first openly gay player in the National Football League upon his likely draft in early May.

The news coincides with another announcement this week from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder who said he will extend the federal government’s recognition of same-sex marriages even in the 34 states that don’t consider it legal. Same-sex marriage has been legal in California since 2008, but it is on hold because the Ninth Circuit affirmed a lower court’s stay pending further appeal.

“I came to tell the world that I’m an openly proud gay man,” Sam told ESPN on Feb. 9. “I understand how big this is. It’s a big deal. No one has done this before. And it’s kind of a nervous process, but I know what I want to be...I want to be a football player in the NFL.”

Sam told his teammates in August and said they were generally supportive of him, admitting that he was surprised to discover that many people in the media knew he was gay. “I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” he told the New York Times this week. “I just want my own truth.”

At 6-foot-2, 260 pounds, Sam was a first-team All American last season and was named top defensive player in the Southeastern Conference. His teammates voted him Most Valuable Player his past season. A mock draft conducted by Bleacher Report projected Sam to go in the late rounds. The NFL issued a statement this week: “We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage. 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.”

A more ringing endorsement came this week from First Lady Michelle Obama who said via Twitter: “You’re an inspiration to all of us. We couldn’t be prouder of your courage both on and off the field.”

This isn’t the first time that an Obama family member has voiced support for a gay athlete. Last year when NBA veteran Jason Collins announced he was gay, President Obama addressed the issue in remarks during a news conference, calling Collins a role model. “I had a chance to talk to [Collins]...he seems like a terrific young man. I told him I couldn’t be prouder of him.”

Professional sports worldwide is seeing more individuals reveal their sexual orientation, much of which may be traced back to tennis legend Billie Jean King who in 1981 was in the middle of an endorsement contract when a confidant leaked to the press that the former Grand Slam champion and future recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom was a lesbian. Since then other athletes such as Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis, former WNBA star Sheryl Swoops, Major League Soccer’s Robbie Rogers and the WWE’s Darren Young have each announced that he or she is a member of the LGBT community.