Before Carl Nassib's groundbreaking decision Monday to come out as gay, there was Michael Sam.
The Missouri defensive end was named SEC co-defensive player of the year during his senior season in 2013. In February before the 2014 NFL draft, he announced that he is gay.
“I am an openly, proud gay man,” Sam said on ESPN.
NFL draft drama after Sam's revelation
While Sam was a force as a senior in college, racking up 10 sacks and 18 tackles for loss in 2013, he was undersized for his position at the NFL level and considered a mid-to-late round draft prospect. After his announcement, some wondered if he would be drafted at all.
More than 240 picks into the 256-pick draft, Sam's name had yet to be called. The St. Louis Rams stopped his slide, selecting Sam with the 249th pick. When his name was called, Sam turned to kiss boyfriend Vito Cammisano as an ESPN camera documenting the draft party broadcast the celebration to its audience of football fans.
Sam never realized NFL dream
The moment was not met with widespread acclaim. It instead made Sam a continued target of homophobic slurs. Sam's football career likewise didn't go as hoped. The Rams cut him a week before the start of the regular season. He then signed with the Cowboys, but never saw the playing field with Dallas before Jerry Jones informed him weeks later of his release.
Sam eventually played a single game for the CFL's Montreal Alouettes. That was the extent of his in-game professional football experience. So while Sam was the first openly gay NFL draft pick, he never realized his dream of becoming the first openly gay active NFL player.
Sam thanks Carl Nassib
That status now belongs to Nassib, who's announcement on Monday was met with support from his Las Vegas Raiders, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the NFLPA and a handful of current and former NFL players. Sam added his name to that list of supporters, thanking Nassib for "owning your truth" in a tweet early Tuesday.
Carl Nassib thank you for owning your truth and especially your donation to the @TrevorProject. LBGTQ people are more likely to commit suicide than heterosexuals. I hope and pray people will take note to this. Thank you again Carl and look forward to seeing you play on the field.
— Michael Sam (@MichaelSam52) June 22, 2021
As an established NFL player receiving open support from from his team and the the league, Nassib's status as a pro appears secure. While the reception to his news among players on the field and in locker rooms remains to be seen, the league as a whole is better prepared for Nassib's revelation in 2021 than it was for Sam's in 2014.
For his role in that progress, Sam deserves thanks for his own.
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