Yasss! Michael Sam has made history as the first openly gay player in the National Football League. The University of Missouri's superstar defensive lineman was drafted tonight in the seventh round and as the 249th out of 256 overall picks in the 2014 NFL Draft, reports USA Today.
"For Michael, it's a little bit of relief that it's over, and you can finally say you're part of the NFL family. That is a dream come true for so many football players. That's a realization that all his hard work has paid off," gay former NFL player Wade Davis, the executive director of the You Can Play Project, told USA TODAY Sports. "Now he can really start to focus on his new journey."
Sam's addition to an NFL roster is a watershed moment for the league that has taken significant steps in recent months to prepare for its first openly gay player. ... [But] as the seventh round began with Sam still undrafted, his status became the most compelling storyline in the final stage of the three-day draft. ESPN, who had a camera with Sam in San Diego, had reporter Shelley Smith broadcasting live from a watch party at a gay bar in West Hollywood, while the hastag #SamFans united Sam's supporters online.
The 6-foot-2, 260-pound Mizzou senior was voted the 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, was named a first-team all-American and was voted Missouri's most valuable player. Missouri finished its season 12-2 and Sam helped lead the team to its Cotton Bowl victory.
Despite that impressive background, Sam's potential has been in question ever since underperforming at the NFL Combine. Why was he selected so late into the draft and behind players with much less talent? , asks the New York Times.
At a public workout a month later, he improved at quantifiable athletic assessments like the 40-yard dash, his measured vertical leap and the number of times he bench-pressed 225 pounds, but a survey of various predraft rankings this week still listed him from 12th to 25th among defensive ends.
Sam, the 249th player taken out of 256, was passed over for a punter, an offensive lineman from McGill University in Montreal and a defensive end from Concordia St. Paul, a small college football program in Minnesota that had never had a player chosen in the draft. A defensive end from Marist was also chosen before Sam. Though Sam was drafted, the N.F.L. may still come under fire for not doing enough to promote inclusiveness. The league is already grappling with a bullying scandal and has been criticized for not doing enough to promote black coaches.
Michael Sam made history last February when he became the first Division I college football player to come out as gay. He also becomes the second openly gay athlete to play in the rarefied "Big Four"—the National Football League, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League. Twelve year NBA veteran Jason Collins came out in April 2013 and was signed by the Brooklyn Nets in February.
In other news: VISA signed an endorsement deal with Michael Sam earlier this week. The newly-drafted St. Louis Rams defensive end has also been awarded the prestigious Arthur Ashe. Sam will receive "the award given to individuals who transcend sports" at the 2014 ESPYS on July 16.
Wade Davis, former Division I basketball player Will Sheridan and former American Basketball Association player DeMarco Majors discussed the landscape for professional Black gay athletes with me in the award-winning and critically-acclaimed 2012 anthology For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Not Enough. The book was edited by television commentator Keith Boykin.
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