Gay NFL prospect draws praise from Vt. advocates

February 10, 2014, 6:18 pm
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Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

(NECN: Jack Thurston, Burlington, Vt.) - Michael Sam, a star defensive lineman from the University of Missouri Tigers, publicly discussed his sexuality this weekend. Sam, who is widely considered a top prospect to be drafted into the National Football League, could become the first openly gay member of a current NFL roster.

"I'm not afraid of who I am," Sam told ESPN this weekend. "Hopefully, [players] don't judge me because I'm gay; they see, 'Hey, this person works hard, can he win us games? Can he win us a championship?' I can."

The NFL released a statement Sunday evening, reading, "We admire Michael Sam's honesty and courage. 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."

"You know that he's going places," observed Kim Fountain, the director of Burlington's RU12? community center for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Vermonters. "The larger number of folks who come out as being LGBTQ, or an ally of our community, the greater the safety net is for all of us."

Patrick Burke, the director of player safety for the National Hockey League and co-founder of the "You Can Play" project to end homophobia in sports, told New England Cable News he expects Sam will be a valued member of any locker room, provided he delivers on the field. "Sports teams are a family," Burke said. "What we have found is every time in recent years an athlete has come out, his or her teammates have embraced them with very rare exceptions."

Dave Landers, who teaches courses on psychology, gender identity, and sports culture at Vermont's St. Michael's College, said Sam's announcement is a watershed moment. "This is really huge," Landers told NECN.

Landers called pro football one of the last big places where being openly gay has been unheard of. He predicted, provided Sam is drafted, that his prominence will lead to other athletes feeling more comfortable to lead what Landers called "authentic lives," from the pros all the way down to high schools. "He's going to be a role model for all those kids who love sports and love athletics and want to play sports, who happen to be gay," Landers said.

Michael Sam will find out in May if his dream comes true of playing football for an NFL team.

Tags: nfl, Missouri, vermont, Burlington, Jack Thurston, Michael Sam, National Football Leagu, University of Missouri Tigers
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