Earlier this year, former Missouri defensive end and SEC co-Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam made a ground-breaking announcement and became the first openly gay athlete to enter the NFL Draft. It was a great moment in sports, but it is one that almost didn’t happen.
In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE Magazine that will hit the newsstands on Friday, Sam stated that he came out earlier than he had planned.
“When I came out in February, it actually wasn’t the time I wanted to come out. I was going to come out to my [pro] team – whoever drafted me,” Sam told the magazine.
“When I came out in February, I did it because when I participated in the Senior Bowl, I was surprised how many people in the media knew. Everyone who did an interview with me said, ‘Okay, we know you’re gay, can we break the story?’ So I said okay, and I called my agent. The rest is history.”
Sam had previously come out to his teammates and many in the Missouri community already knew of his sexual orientation, but they decided to keep his secret under wraps until he was prepared to come out so that he could tell his own story.
“They knew they could tell whoever they wanted to, but they didn’t,” Sam, who grew up in Hitchcock, Texas, said. “They kept it secret. They didn’t have to. I was out. I did my own thing. I had my boyfriend.”
Many believe that Sam’s announcement in February affected his draft stock and caused him to slide until the seventh round when the Rams picked him up, so it would have been interesting to see where he would have been drafted had the announcement not been made prior to the draft.
Sam knew from a young age that he was a gay male, but it wasn’t until college that he finally accepted who he was.
“I’m probably one of the few to be as blessed as I am, to have great teammates the way I did, and have the great coaching staff the way I did at Mizzou,” he said. “Everyone in that program was so respectful of me, I wanted to give them all I got.”
“I always knew I was different. I knew I had a male attraction probably in 7th grade,” he said, “but I didn’t act upon it. I didn’t act upon it in high school. But college was different. College is all about experimenting. I did, and then I was like, ‘This is who I am.’ ”
It is great to see Sam finally get to a point where he was comfortable in his own skin, and now he can work on become the best football player that he can possibly be.
For Sam, being an openly gay athlete is just the beginning of his story and there is still a lot more that will need to unfold before he writes his final chapter.