NFL Prospect Michael Sam Announces He's Gay, Michelle Obama Tweets Her Support

Late Sunday, a college football star put himself on the path of becoming the first openly gay player in the National Football League. In two interviews with ESPN and The New York Times late Sunday, University of Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam told the world that he was gay: "I came to tell the world I'm an openly gay, proud man," Sam said, making the brave choice to do it before he's been drafted to the NFL. Now we can kindly all move on and let the guy play his sport.

His reason for coming out before being drafted was simple: he wanted, as most of us do, to control his own narrative. He didn't want the media to bare down on him and twist what he had to say: "I wanted to tell them, Hey, I'm gay, let me tell my own story," he said. And part of that is because he didn't want to be defined solely by his sexual orientation. "I don't think I should be known as Michael Sam, 'The Gay Athlete'," he said.

Michelle Obama clearly agreed, Tweeting at Sam Monday: "You're an inspiration to all of us, @MikeSamFootball. We couldn't be prouder of your courage both on and off the field."

Although this is the first time Sam has come out to the public, his teammates and friends mostly knew. It was no big secret — he just hadn't told the world.

"I'm not afraid of who I am. I'm Michael Sam, and I'm a football player," he said.

“Looking back, I take great pride in how Michael and everyone in our program handled his situation,” his coach, Gary Pinkel, said in statement.

This past August, Michael was very direct with the team when he decided to let everyone know that he is gay. We discussed how to deal with that from a public standpoint, and ultimately Michael decided that he didn’t want that to be the focal point of the season. He wanted to focus on football and not do anything to add pressure for him or for his teammates, and I think that’s a great example of the kind of person he is.

When asked about how his future teammates and other football players might react to his coming-out, Sam again emphasized that the focus should be on his sport, not his orientation: "It shouldn't matter. If I work hard, I win plays, that's all that should matter ....Some people don't see gay people playing in sports, but Chris, it is what is it. I'm happy with who I am. I know how to play the game. I'm a football player. That's all that matters."

Still, it's no small deal. There are no out gay players in the NFL, the NHL, the NBA, or NBL. (Players have come out after they leave the game.) In fact, just last week, a New Orleans Saints linebacker told the NFL Network that he didn't want a gay teammate.

The anti-gay sentiment in the NFL is pretty notorious: there’s never been a single openly gay player in the 2,000-person league, it’s the only North American sports league that hasn’t suspended an athlete for using a homophobic slur and — most pertinently for Sam's case — NFL scouts are infamous for grilling potential players about their sexual orientation before signing them.

"I may be the first, but I won't be the last," Sam said. "Only good things are gonna come from this."

Still, there are a lot of haters out there. Here's a preview of what he could face in the NFL, tweeted by a former NFL cornerback in reaction to Sam's coming out:

"Everyone can say hurtful things, and hateful things, but I don't let stuff like that distract me," Sam said. "You know, it's 2014. I can't tell society to agree with this or not to agree with this. But hopefully society will rally around me, and support me." Which, by the outpouring on Twitter, it looks like they have:

Image: Getty Images