Michael Sam provides model for courage

University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam shocked the world last week when he publicly announced he was gay in interviews with ESPN and the New York Times.

The redshirt senior and 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year is set to enter the NFL Draft and is a projected mid-round pick in May. If drafted, he would become the first active openly gay NFL player.

Sam’s story has made waves across the country through television and social media, and has received mixed feelings, though many people have reached out in support.

Supporters range from NFL general managers to current and former NFL players, even branching out into other sports and professions. Michelle Obama tweeted to Sam, “You’re an inspiration to all of us. We couldn’t be prouder of your courage both on and off the field.”

Lately, there has been a change in the sporting world’s culture, pertaining to the perception of the sexuality of its professional athletes. Current NBA player Jason Collins came out last April, becoming the first NBA player to publicly announce that he is gay. After Sam’s announcement, Collins tweeted, “For the past 2 days I have met with Michael here in LA. He is a great young man who has shown tremendous courage and leadership.”

Some NFL players have come out after retirement. Recent examples include former first-round pick Kwame Harris and Dorien Bryant. So why did Sam come out now? Why not wait?

The culture of the NFL locker room has come under scrutiny recently with the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin fiasco. In a world of macho players who are encouraged to be “men’s men,” the ramifications and fallout of Sam’s announcement are potentially earth shattering both personally and professionally.

Questions are raised. How will this affect Sam’s draft stock? Will he be accepted by his teammates? Will his competitors try to take liberties with him? For the team that drafts him, will he become too much of a media distraction?

Sam offers a simple answer: “I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it. I just want to own my truth,” he told the New York Times.

Sam’s story is a model of courage and perseverance. As a child, three of his siblings passed away, one went missing, two brothers went to prison, and he briefly had to live in his mother’s car. Coming out publicly was just another challenge for him to face. “I’m not afraid to tell the world who I am,” he said in his interview with ESPN’s ‘Outside the Lines.’ “I’m Michael Sam. I’m a college graduate. I’m African American, and I’m gay. I’m comfortable in my skin.”

Times are changing and the culture of this country is changing. Young people have become more accepting of homosexuality. Every day, more and more people are able to live the lives they want to.

Hopefully, one day, this story won’t be a story at all and sexual orientation won’t even be a social issue. For the future Michael Sams of the world, hopefully people will only care if they fit a 3-4 system or a 4-3. Can they be used as a linebacker or situational pass rusher?

That’s a question all NFL prospects can relate to.

Right now, Sam is the newest addition to a list of individuals in sports who are changing the face of the game. They are trend setters. They are role models that show courage to all of us, facing adversity in all situations and aspects of life.

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