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Rising American football star comes out as gay


American football player Michael Sam, who was a defensive end for the University of Missouri and is a strong contender for the NFL, came out about his sexuality on Sunday, setting himself up to become the league’s first openly gay athlete if drafted.


In a series of interviews with US media outlets, Sam said that when he came out to his teammates and coaches at a pre-season football practice last year, nobody appeared to be all that surprised.

“Coaches just wanted to know a little about ourselves, our majors, where we’re from, and something that no one knows about you,” he told sports channel ESPN. “And I used that opportunity just to tell them that I was gay. And their reaction was like, ‘Michael Sam finally told us.'”

Sam had already confided in his friends about his sexuality, and dated another athlete at Missouri who was not a football player.

“I didn’t realise how many people actually knew, and I was afraid that someone would tell or leak something out about me,” he said. “I want to own my truth. ... No one else should tell my story but me.”

Sam has had an impressive season so far. At 255 pounds (116kg), he has led the Southeastern Conference in sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (19). It is widely expected that the college senior will be a mid-round NFL draft pick.

While there have been a number of NFL players who have come out after retirement, including Kwame Harris and Dave Kopay, Sam would be the first to do while his career is still active.

“It’s a big deal. No one has done this before. And it’s kind of a nervous process, but I know what I want to be ... I want to be a football player in the NFL,” he said in the interviews.

Breaking taboos

By announcing that he is “an openly, proud gay man,” Sam has become one of a handful of active professional athletes in the United States to come out in the last year, breaking the taboo subject of sexuality in sports.

The NBA’s Jason Collins publicly announced that he was gay after the end of the 2013 basket season, in what was a first for the league. Collins, 35, was a free agent at the time and has not signed with a new team this season.

One month later in May, Robbie Rogers, a player for the US national soccer team and the MLS, followed suit. More recently, however, Conner Martens, a Division III college football player for Willamette, said last month that he is bisexual.

Sam’s own coming out has been greeted with public support from the NFL.

“We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage,” the NFL said in statement. “Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.''

Meanwhile, Missouri coach, Gary Pinkel said that he was proud of Sam and how he represented the team.

“Michael is a great example of just how important it is to be respectful of others, he’s taught a lot of people here first-hand that it doesn’t matter what your background is, or your personal orientation, we’re all on the same team and we all support each other,” Pinkel said. “If Michael doesn’t have the support of his teammates like he did this past year, I don’t think there’s any way he has the type of season he put together.”

Missouri linebacker Donovan Bonner, who has played with Sam for five years, also voiced his support.

“We knew of his status for 5 years and not one team member, coach, or staff member said anything says a lot about our family atmosphere,” Bonner tweeted.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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