How Michael Sam is Changing the Game

Michael Sam Coming Out

A former University of Missouri football player made history last night.

Michael Sam, a defensive lineman who is projected to be a mid-round selection in the upcoming NFL Draft, came out publicly as gay. In all likelihood, he will be the first openly LGBT player in the NFL.

Michael came out to his coaches and teammates before last season, and they appear to have supported him overwhelmingly. He attributed much of his confidence in coming out publicly to his team’s support.

“Just to see their reaction was awesome. They supported me from day one. I couldn't have better teammates,” he told ESPN. “I’m telling you what: I wouldn't have the strength to do this today if I didn't know how much support they'd given me this past semester.”

Missouri finished the season ranked No. 5 in the country, and Michael finished as the Southeastern Conference’s co-Defensive Player of the Year. So much for the ridiculous argument that, for the betterment of the team, LGBT people should not be open to their teammates about their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Michael’s announcement also offers a time for reflection: Are K-12 locker rooms and coaches in the United States as inclusive of LGBT people as the University of Missouri’s?

Unfortunately, many are not. GLSEN research found that 79.4% of LGBT students are uncomfortable talking to their P.E. teachers or coaches about LGBT issues. And almost a quarter (22.8%) of LGBT students said they avoided school athletics fields and facilities because of feeling unsafe or uncomfortable, more than any other place at school. While Michael’s story is one of success and optimism, there is work left to do.

That’s why we launched Changing the Game: The GLSEN Sports Project three years ago to assist K-12 schools in creating and maintaining an athletic and physical education climate that is based on the core principles of respect, safety and equal access for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

 

GLSEN congratulates Michael on his brave, historic act, and we look forward to the day when all LGBT athletes are met with such compassion. Our hope is that one day every LGBT athlete who comes out to teammates has an experience like Michael’s: safe and supportive. 

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