The decision of NFL draft prospect Michael Sam to publicly out himself as a gay man Sunday night was a pivotal one for the NFL, a league that does not have an openly gay athlete on any of its rosters.
He told ESPN the same thing he told his former teammates and coaches at Missouri this past August. “I am an openly, proud gay man.”
He garnered immediate support from the league, current, and former players.
“We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage,” the NFL said in a statement. “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.”
As the news spread, some players offered their reactions on social media, including Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Tom Crabtree, one of the more outspoken NFL players when it comes to social and political issues.
Miami Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes said he doesn’t care one way or the other.
Grimes said, “Unless [you’re] having or trying to have sex with somebody, I just feel like their sexual preference shouldn’t really matter to you.” He then added, “Realistically my ‘don’t give a damn’ attitude isn’t everyone’s, so there are some that this won’t go over so well with.”
Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith didn’t address Sam specifically, but shared his general outlook.
Sammy Watkins, regarded by many as the top receiver in this year’s draft class, will join Sam at the NFL Scouting Combine in two weeks and said he respects him for his decision.
Watkins added, “The truth is it’s so many others [that are] hiding in this world and holding in [their] true side of them and never happy be courageous
Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback and NFL Network analyst Deion Sanders encouraged the league to support Sam like a family member.
Sanders added, “I applaud Missouri DE @MikeSamfootball for his bravery & honesty about who he is. I pray he gets a opportunity 2 play the game he loves!”
While Sam received a fair amount of support on social media, things could be different behind closed doors with image-conscious league executives, and in private conversations among NFL players, particularly those who remained silent while all of this was happening.
“I think that he would not be accepted as much as we think that he’d be accepted,” Jonathan Vilma told Andrea Kremer in an NFL Network interview last week as part of a feature on locker room culture. Vilma was asked how he and teammates would react to having a gay teammate.
“I don’t want people to naturally assume like, we’re all homophobic, because that’s not the case. Imagine if he’s the guy next to me, and I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine [yards], and it just so happens that he looks at me. How am I supposed to respond?”