Everything We Know So Far About Michael Sam

The star defensive end and likely NFL draft pick from Missouri came out publicly tonight.

Michael Sam, a star defensive end for Missouri who is eligible for the upcoming NFL draft, announced tonight in an interview with the New York Times that he is gay. Here’s what we know so far about Sam’s past and potential future.

Jamie Squire / Getty

2. He is a very good player.

Kansas City Star / McClatchy-Tribune

In 2013, his redshirt senior season, Sam was a first-team All-American and led the SEC, the nation’s most competitive college football conference, in sacks with 11.5.

3. On the merits, he would likely be a high draft choice with an excellent chance of making an NFL roster.

Dilip Vishwanat / Getty

CBS ranks Sam as the 90th-best prospect in this year’s draft, which means that he would be worth picking in the third of the draft’s seven rounds. Last year’s 90th pick, Kayvon Webster, made the Denver Broncos and was on the team’s active roster when they played in the Super Bowl.

4. He came out to his college teammates before last season.

Kansas City Star / McClatchy-Tribune

Per the Times:

“Coaches at the University of Missouri divided players into small groups at a preseason football practice last year for a team-building exercise. One by one, players were asked to talk about themselves — where they grew up, why they chose Missouri and what others might not know about them.

“As Michael Sam, a defensive lineman, began to speak, he balled up a piece of paper in his hands. ‘I’m gay,’ he said.”

5. With Sam’s sexual orientation known to everyone on the team, Missouri had one of its best years ever.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

The Tigers went 12-2, won the Cotton Bowl, and finished fifth in the nation in the Associated Press’s final rankings. As ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz points out, this fact undermines the argument that a gay football player would be a locker-room problem with a negative effect on team chemistry.

Sam said he didn’t have any problem with his fellow players after coming out, though his friend and teammate L’Dainlian Washington told the Times that it took some time for team members to learn not to use casually homophobic language in locker-room settings. In any case:

6. After the season, his teammates voted Sam the team’s most valuable player.

Kevin C. Cox / Getty

8. He says he decided to come out more publicly now because rumors had started to circulate — and that he would’ve answered honestly if anyone had asked him this season if he was gay.

Joe Robbins / Getty

In an interview with ESPN, he put it simply, “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.”

Though discriminating against employees on the basis of sexual orientation is specifically prohibited by the NFL, the Times reported that last month several NFL scouts asked Sam’s agent if Sam had a girlfriend.

In an exclusive behind-the-scenes report at OutSports posted Sunday night, those agents described one aspect of the timing of Sam’s announcement: “The decision to speed up the process was cemented at the January Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. … While scouts were interested in his on-field performance, they seemed equally interested in asking [NFL agents Cameron] Weiss and [Joe] Barkett about their client’s personal life.”

Barkett told OutSports, “At the Senior Bowl, it was the first question I got from the scouts almost every time.”

11. In that OutSports exclusive, it was revealed that Sam met with several of the leading advocates for LGBT inclusion in sports on Saturday night:

(OutSports photo by Cyd Zeigler used with permission) / Via outsports.com

From OutSports: “Saturday night, [PR agent Howard] Bragman held a coming out party for Sam at his home in Los Angeles. It was a powerful collection of guests. Dave Kopay, the gay former NFL running back who blazed a trail when he came out publicly in 1975, was in high spirits. Former NFL players Chris Kluwe, Brendon Ayanbedajo and Wade Davis, plus former Major Leaguer Billy Bean — the former San Diego Padre who came out over a decade ago — had come to lend their support. Outsports’ Jim Buzinski and [Cyd Zeigler, the author] were also in attendance.”

12. Sam is from a small town in Texas, and his family’s life has not always been tranquil, but he says he loves his hometown and that his family is supportive of his decisions.

Sam posted the image above to Instagram three months ago with the following caption:

“I will never forget where I come from, nor the people who made me who I am today!!! #hitchcockbulldogs #mizzoufootball #bulldogs #brothers #teammates #tigerpride #hitchcocktx #tigers”

Hitchcock is a town of around 7,000 people near Galveston, Texas. It’s represented in Congress by Randy Weber, a Republican who last month introduced a bill to limit the ability of the federal government to broadly recognize same-sex couples’ marriages. (The bill has not seen movement in the Republican-controlled House, and has no chance of being considered in the Democratic-controlled Senate.)

13. “Omg I have come a long way from senior year at Hitchcock High to my senior year at Mizzou,” he wrote when posting this side-by-side photo five months ago:

Meanwhile, of Sam’s seven siblings, three have died and two are currently incarcerated. He told ESPN that his parents support his choice to come out, and that he’s not worried about how the rest of Hitchcock will react:

“‘I told my mom and dad last week, and they just pretty much said, ‘We knew and we love you and support you,” he said. ‘I’m their baby boy. I’m the first to go to college. I’m the first to graduate college. Something like this is just another milestone.

‘And I love my hometown. I think when this story breaks, I think they’re just going to love me even more for who I am.’”

14. And, perhaps most importantly, Sam has already identified the “one true love” of his life.

That would be his dog, Jamie.

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