Michael Sam

A college football All-American SEC Defensive Player of the Year came out publicly for the first time in an interview published on the NY Times website on Sunday.

Michael Sam, above right, a 24-year-old defensive lineman for the University of Missouri, came out to his teammates during a team building exercise at a preseason football practice last year. When it was Sam’s turn to speak, he nervously balled up a piece of paper in his hands, and said, “I’m gay.”

Michael Sam

Sam’s revelation to his teammates wasn’t exactly a secret, but the 6-foot-2, 260 pound lineman said he wanted to tell his story on his own terms.

“I understand how big this is,” he told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” on Sunday.

“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.”

The enthusiastic support from gay groups and the pro-gay media not withstanding, Sam has a long, rough road ahead of him. There is already talk within the NFL that his draft stock will plummet as a result of his need for attention.

“I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet,” said an NFL player personnel assistant in an interview with Sports Illustrated. “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.”

From Sports Illustrated:

“Multiple NFL executives questioned Sam’s decision to come out now, as he will be the biggest story in football between now and the NFL draft on May 8. The NFL combine from Feb. 22-25 could turn into a four-day referendum on Sam’s professional future. And his place in the NFL draft will be endlessly debated between now and May.

An NFL assistant coach called Sam’s decision “not a smart move,” as he said it “legitimately affects [his] potential earnings.” It wasn’t lost on the NFL executives that former NBA player Jason Collins, who came out last April in a Sports Illustrated story, hasn’t been signed by an NBA team this year.

“You shouldn’t have to live your life in secrecy,” the assistant coach said, “but do you really want to be the top of the conversation for everything without ever having played a down in this league?

If he is drafted, Sam will become the first openly gay player in the National Football League.

The NFL is one of the last bastions of masculinity left in sports. And while even the most oversexed male doesn’t desire every female he encounters, the fact is that a gay man in a locker room full of sweaty, chiseled hard bodies will be attracted to at least one of them. And no real man wants another man eyeing his Gluteus Maximus in the shower.

Sam follows in the footsteps of college place kicker Conner Martens who came out to his coach and teammates at Willamette University in Oregon last month. Prior to Conner kicking open his closet door, no college football player in the United States had come out publicly.

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