NFL Draft Prospect Michael Sam Comes Out; Hollywood, Athletes Applaud His Decision

Michael Sam - P 2014
Associated Press

The University of Missouri's star defensive lineman — who is working with Hollywood PR veteran Howard Bragman -- could become the first openly gay player in the NFL.

Michael Sam could become the first openly gay NFL player.

The draft prospect, who graduated from the University of Missouri in December, came out in separate interviews with The New York Times and ESPN on Sunday. Sam, 24, said he chose to come out now -- ahead of the NFL draft -- because rumors had begun circulating and he wanted to get out in front of them.

"I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it," Sam told The Times. "I just want to own my truth."

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He also revealed that he told his teammates of his sexual orientation last year during a preseason team-building exercise.

"I looked in their eyes, and they just started shaking their heads -- like, finally, he came out," said Sam, who along with his teammates finished last season 12-2 and beat Oklahoma State in January's Cotton Bowl. Sam also was named a first-team All-American and Defensive Player of the Year in the Southeastern Conference. His teammates also voted him Missouri's most valuable player.

Sam is working with Hollywood public relations veteran Howard Bragman, who has previously helped other stars including Meredith Baxter publicly come out, along with athletes such as former NFL player Esera Tuaolo (who came out after he retired), golfer Rosie Jones, WNBA player Sheryl Swoopes and former NBA player John Amaechi.

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"What really became clear was that it wasn't going to hold until the Combine [set for Feb. 19-25]," Bragman told Outsports of Sam's timing. "Too many calls and too many journalists were sniffing around. So we decided to give the Super Bowl its chance to breathe, and we'd come in with a sneak announcement on Monday, Feb. 10."

As for Sam potentially becoming the first publicly gay NFL player, Bragman -- who also is openly gay -- told Outsports that the prospect is perfect for that role.

"If we were choosing someone to be the first, we'd choose someone like Michael," Bragman said. "Smart, athletic, handsome. I don't think Central Casting could have come up with someone better."

Sam's revelation comes nearly a year after that of NBA player Jason Collins, who became the first openly gay active male pro athlete when he revealed his sexual orientation in a Sports Illustrated cover story.  

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GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis applauded Sam.

"By rewriting the script for countless young athletes, Michael has demonstrated the leadership that, along with his impressive skills on the field, makes him a natural fit for the NFL," she said. "With acceptance of LGBT people rising across our coasts -- in our schools, churches, and workplaces -- it's clear that America is ready for an openly gay football star."

Many others in Hollywood and the professional sports world also commended Sam.