First openly gay athlete in NFL faced hardships after revealing his sexuality

By Brett Shweky/Sports Director


Former All-American Michael Sam made history in the National Football League by becoming the first openly gay athlete to be selected in the league’s draft. The former defensive end joined an exclusive group as one of the only athletes to publicly come out.

“I am not the only gay person in the NFL. I’m just saying there is a lot of us,” said Sam during an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I respect the players that did reach out to me and had the courage to tell me that they were also gay, but they do not have the same courage as I do to come out before I even played a down in the NFL.”

In 2014, the St. Louis Rams selected the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year with the seventh round pick. However, the team later released him as a part of roster cuts.

Following his short stay with the Rams, Sam was added to the practice squad of the Dallas Cowboys, but was soon waived to make roster space for linebacker Troy Davis.

“Hopefully I’m not being discriminated [against] because I’m gay,” Sam said during the interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I don’t believe that I’m being discriminated [against] because I’m gay. I just want to know if I’m truly not in the NFL, it’s because of my talent. Let it be because of my talents. But you’ve got to prove that I can’t play this game. If you look at the film, clearly I can.”

While playing defensive end at the University of Missouri, Sam became one of the best pass-rushers in school history by tying the single-season record for sacks. Sam finished his senior season with 48 total tackles, 11.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two pass break ups.

The former Missouri Tiger ended up signing a two-year contract with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, becoming the first openly gay player in the league’s history as well. A day before the team’s first preseason game, Sam was granted permission by the organization to temporarily leave training camp for “personal reasons.”

After returning to the team and playing in just one game, Sam announced via Twitter that he will be stepping away from the game of football due to mental health reasons.

“Athletes watched what happened to Michael Sam and they’re asking themselves: ‘Are people going to forget that I’m a big league ballplayer, in my fourth year, chasing that big contract, trying to be an All-Star or the team MVP, and now I might be defined by something that has nothing to do with the thing that has been the most important thing to me since I was 8 years old?,” said former Major League Baseball player Billy Bean to ESPN in an interview.

Bean publicly came out in 1999, when his career officially ended, and became the league’s first Ambassador for Inclusion.

The former outfielder for the Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers, and the San Diego Padres will use his new role to work with the LGBT community throughout the league and will encourage Major and Minor League teams to provide equal opportunity for everyone.

The MLB has also partnered with Athlete Ally, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to eliminate homophobia and transphobia in sports.

“Diversity is a hallmark of our sport, which is fortunate to have an inherent ability to bring people together,” said MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, during the league’s appointment of Bean as the Ambassador of Inclusion. “The people of our sport have a responsibility to act with a kind of respect and sensitivity that our game’s diverse players, employees and fans deserve.

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