In an interview last Sunday with The New York Times, Missouri defensive end and NFL prospect Michael Sam declared, “I am an openly, proud gay man.” In doing so, the 6’1” 256-pound SEC Defensive Player of the Year has turned up the volume on a conversation already making waves around the globe – opportunities and challenges for LGBT professional athletes.
As an athlete, Sam’s statistics speak for themselves. The Missouri All-American led the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss and is projected to be a mid-round draft pick into the NFL. However, it’s his newly announced off-the-field status that has everyone talking, and some concerned.
Support for Sam and his decision to “come out” is strong, with President Barack Obama, Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith and football legend Deion Sanders, among many others, praising his announcement. However, respect and admiration are almost never universal. Others have voiced concerns, citing disrupted locker room dynamics, frenzied media distractions and/or general uneasiness – both in and out of the League.
This April’s draft should prove to be very interesting and for reasons not wholly related to football. Many questions are already surfacing in the media: Will Sam’s draft stock drop as a result of his announcement? Does his performance on the field make up for potential media distractions? Will the NFL’s policy against discrimination based on sexual orientation, re-released in April 2013, be put to the test? Will he have grounds for legal action if he is not drafted?
Despite the questions and conversations Sam’s announcement has raised, one thing is certain: 2014 will be a big year for LGBT professional athletes, and we here at Porter Novelli wish Michael Sam the best of luck in in his career. You are, indeed, an inspiration to us all.