Top 5 most influential students: Michael Sam

Maneater File Photo

Michael Sam is gay.

There. He said it. To a national audience. To ESPN, The New York Times, the National Football League, to everyone. He has the ear of the whole world now, no longer just 7,000-person Hitchock, Texas, or 100,000-person Columbia, Mo.

“I’m not afraid of who I am. I’m not afraid to tell the world who I am,” Sam said on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”

“I’m Michael Sam, I’m a college graduate, I’m African American, and I’m gay.”

His Feb. 9 announcement is perhaps the largest social breakthrough in sport since Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947. In 2013, Jason Collins became the first openly gay player in the NBA. Sam, if selected in Thursday’s NFL draft, will be the first openly gay professional football player.

His announcement spurred the arrival of protesters from Westboro Baptist Church who spoke out against his open homosexuality.

Missouri students responded with a human wall half a mile long that sealed off campus from the church group.

“You talk about the values of this institution, and here’s your proof,” said Cathy Scroggs, vice chancellor for student affairs.

Later that day, when the Tiger basketball team beat Tennessee at Mizzou Arena, fans gave Sam a standing ovation when the football team was honored for its Cotton Bowl win. Sam had the game-clinching forced fumble.

A pair of students carved the letters S and A in front of Faurot Field’s famous rock M to spell “SAM” the night after his announcement.

Sam posted his best season in black and gold — 48 tackles and 11.5 sacks — months after he came out to teammates in a “crossover dinner,” when coaches host players from different units as a team bonding experience.

Some players had known for years that Sam was gay. Others found out as word spread through the locker room. The whole team kept his sexuality under wraps through the season until Sam made his announcement in February.

“We’ve got 127 players, OK, and everyone’s got ideas and thoughts and opinions on all kinds of social issues and situations,” coach Gary Pinkel said in February. “With some of the players, they might not agree; they have their own opinion on it, maybe not favorably, possibly. But that’s OK. It’s not about what my opinion is on it either. It’s about being respectful to people.”

Days after his announcement, several NFL scouts told Sports Illustrated that Sam, who is already undersized for a defensive lineman, would suffer in the draft because of his sexuality.

"There are guys in locker rooms that maturity-wise cannot handle it or deal with the thought of that," said one NFL assistant coach.

Another scout said the league simply “isn’t ready (for a gay player) just yet.”

Nearly three months after coming out, NFL executives have begun changing their tunes. NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said in April that there’s “no question” a team will draft Sam.

The Baltimore Sun reported the Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots, along with the Jets and Falcons, are interested in the Missouri prospect.

He officially met with Ravens personnel during the NFL combine in February.

"A trailblazer?” he said during the event. "I feel like I'm Michael Sam. I just wish you guys would see me as Michael Sam, the football player, instead of Michael Sam, the gay football player. There's a lot of support out there. I just want to do what I do, and that's play football."

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