The Bravest of All, Michael Sam Moves Us Forward

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

By Wade Davis

I had the pleasure of spending six hours with Michael Sam on Saturday night, and let me tell you, America, if you don’t already love him, get ready to.

We met in Los Angeles at the home of P.R. pro Howard Bragman, who is leading the charge in helping Michael establish his identity before others do it for him. The dinner included several leaders from the LGBT sports community: former major league baseball player Billy Bean, who came out after he retired; David Kopay, a former NFL player who is gay; Brendon Ayanbadejo and Chris Kluwe, two former NFL players and LGBT advocates; Outsports.com editor Cyd Zeigler; and Michael’s agents, Joe Barkett and Cameron Weiss of Empire Athletes. We had each learned of Michael and the discussion to make his sexual orientation public at different stages; I learned of it a few weeks ago when Troy Vincent, a senior vice president at the NFL, reached out to me after speaking with one of Michael’s agents.

From l. to r., Wade Davis, Dave Kopay, Michael Sam, Chris Kluwe, Billy Bean, Brendon Ayanbadejo. (Courtesy of Wade Davis.)
At Saturday night’s dinner (from l. to r.), Wade Davis, David Kopay, Michael Sam, Chris Kluwe, Billy Bean and Brendon Ayanbadejo. (Courtesy of Cyd Zeigler)

We met on the eve of Michael’s announcement over a meal that featured Cyd’s homemade peach cobbler, which Michael had requested. During dinner, Howard Bragman offered a toast. He saluted Kopay for his courage to be the first ex-NFL player to come out, and he thanked the rest of us for pushing the envelope, and he praised Michael, the bravest of us all. “We’ve come full circle,” Bragman said, “but Michael is the real hero here.”

The night was a celebration for the people who had advanced this movement for years, and an effort to show Michael our love and support. While the rest of the crew ate Asian food, Michael and I opted for the Asian-style ribs, a logical choice for a kid from Hitchcock, Texas, and an old man from Little Rock, Arkansas. Michael was happy, but not overwhelmed. It was clear that the moment was not too big for him. A large part of him hoped for the hoopla to begin and end quickly, so he could focus on preparing for the combine.

Michael told us the story of coming out to his team. “We were supposed to stand up and say our name and something about ourselves,” he recalled. “So I stood up and said, ‘I’m Michael, and I’m gay.’ ” We were blown away by the nonchalance of it, but he explained that almost everyone knew his secret. Times had clearly changed since I graduated from Weber State in 2000. I began to think about how incredible his Mizzou experience was, and what it all meant. Michael played his college ball in the middle of America, in the SEC, in a big-time program, and somehow no fans, teammates or coaches had an issue with it. Michael has accomplished so much—why would anyone question his ability to play on Sundays just because he’s gay?

Where I had internalized homophobia and crippling doubts about how I would be received, Michael knew 100% that his teammates wouldn’t care.

Michael continued, explaining the recent success of the Mizzou football team and his 11.5-sack season. He said the team bonded, in part, because coach Gary Pinkel loosened the reins and let the players be themselves over the past two seasons. Coming out was a big weight off Michael’s shoulders, and as I listened to him, I realized he hadn’t experienced the same type of internalized homophobia that I did. And whatever he did experience, he was able to transcend it. Where I had crippling doubts about how I would be received, Michael knew 100% that his teammates wouldn’t care. He says, “Hey, I’m gay. Next?”

We had discussed the reasons for coming out now to the larger public, which I’m sure will be debated for months. Here’s the truth: Everybody at Mizzou knew Michael was gay, and he wanted to tell his own story. There were reporters at the Senior Bowl who knew his story and were trying to pitch themselves as the reporter who would write it. For Michael, the fear of being outed before he got his say was a major factor.

Gay in the NFL

In July, Wade Davis co-authored a story for The MMQB with Esera Tuaolo about the struggles of growing up closeted in the world of football. FULL STORY

After several hours, the dinner party moved on to a local nightclub, then another bar, and by midnight, a gay bar. Michael, wearing jeans and a button-up shirt, made fun of Cyd for wearing jeans with sneakers.

“I’m country,” I told him, “but you’re more country than a dozen eggs.”

Michael’s agents, Barkett and Weiss, joined us and fit in nicely, which impressed me. These guys are level-headed, open and focused on what’s best for Michael. He came to them after dumping a previous agency, because he felt they were too focused on him coming out and not focused enough on football. Empire Athletes is a small agency, which is ideal for any challenges Michael will face; he’s going to need guys to be there for him through his historic rookie season.

With Bragman’s help, they’ll navigate through the onslaught of media requests, and ensure that Michael finds a place to work out this spring free from distractions. I’ll do what I can to help. As I told him, “I know you’re a football guy. You know you’re a football guy. And we need to make sure everyone else knows that.”

Here’s what impresses me the most: Michael isn’t planning on running to the media when people make stupid comments, whether they’re from fans or a smattering of players, or when teams ask him difficult questions at the combine. He’s looking to protect his teammates, his coaches, his team and the NFL.

I admire his courage and how comfortable he is in his own skin. Shortly after midnight he jumped on stage with five of us and led a karaoke rendition of “My Girl” by The Temptations. I loved watching how liberated and free he is, and I thought about how powerful this is going to be for LGBTQ youth who still struggle with issues of self-hatred.

When I left him at 1 a.m., I told him how proud I am to know him, and I wished him luck. On my way to the hotel and on the flight back to New York, I wondered, Would other players follow Michael’s example? Certainly, I believe, but not in the droves many will imagine.

I thought about Michael in the greater context of American society, and it hit me: This is a black man, from the rural south, who is set to become the first openly gay player in the NFL. Paired with the NBA’s Jason Collins, his presence has the potential to reframe all the misconceptions about masculinity in athletics, about LGBT tolerance among African-Americans, and about homophobia in rural areas. I wondered if he truly grasped the significance of this moment that would change lives for gay men and women in sports going forward. Then I decided that it doesn’t really matter if he does. He’s here to play football.

 

wade-davis-headshotA former football captain at Weber State, Wade Davis was cut by the Redskins in training camp and retired in 2003 because of a leg injury. He came out nine years later in media interviews and is the co-founder of the You Belong initiative, an LGBTQ and straight ally youth sports and leadership program. He is also executive director of You Can Play and lives in New York City.

 

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102 comments
Mech
Mech

Ever notice that nearly all gays are liberal and they nearly all are convinced that being gay has nothing to do with their upbringing but is in their "genes". Right,,, well science doesn't agree with you on this one. There is no gay gene,,,and if there had been how fast would THAT gene have been wiped out of the bloodline,,,bloody quick, one generation and gone. All those people that decide they are gay after 50 were just fighting it the whole time,,,,, right. No,,,,,, the IGNORANCE shown by so many gays is mind boggling.

No one cares if you have a sexual proclivity, it just doesn't merit Government protection like race. It isn't the same no matter how many cute stories you have.

MartyJenkins
MartyJenkins

Just so tired of this being an issue....  I dont give a sh*t what people do in their private sex lives.... and I dont want to hear about it in public.  There is ignorance on both sides, but the reality is that most Americans just....dont....care.  The gay rights movement can have their rights as far as im concerned, but can it stop being a big deal everytime someone yells to the world the kind of people they choose to have sex with?

SamJudie
SamJudie

Some of these remarks are TOO INCREDIBLE!  Us 'Gays' Choose To 'Offend GOD' - TOO FUNNY!  You people who think 'Being Gay' is a Choice?  Wrong!  GOD MADE US GAY!  My favorite Quote is by Charles Pierce ~ It's better to be black than gay because when you're black you don't have to tell your mother. ~  CHECK OUT OUR NEW WEBSITE!  http://www.GGGAAAYYY.com  -  Sam Judie in Henderson, Nevada! - 

Marima
Marima

"Michael knew 100% that his teammates wouldn’t care."

If that's true, than how is what he did brave and courageous? Not everyone is 'comfortable in his own skin', gay or straight, so it's admirable when anyone can say they live their life that way - unapologetic and true to their beliefs.  

Players like Tim Tebow continue to get bashed for their unwavering and outspoken faith and commitment to Jesus Christ.  The media speculated about players who might be uncomfortable with him evangelizing in the locker room, even though former teammates said he never tried to convert them or push his beliefs.  Both Tebow and Sam are reportedly good men of high character, but it's Tebow who remains the butt of jokes and Sam the one labeled courageous for being true to himself and not hiding who he is.


How about treating Sam the exact same as any other draft prospect and judge him on his football ability and smarts instead of who he canoodles with?  That would really show how far this country has come.

BobWills
BobWills

It is a sad day when a person willingly chooses to offend the God of the universe and everything in it. I wish no ill will on this young man. I feel so sorry for him and what he has chosen to do. I am sickened by the media and the society approval of this sinful act. I feel the same way about how sex is pushed in ever ad, movie, and commercial. We celebrate divorce, adultry, homosexuality, which are all sins right in the face of God. I do not expect the secular society to do anything other than what they are doing. But it is up to Christians, people who truly follow Jesus Christ to draw the line and stand for Him.

rh2000
rh2000

Sam will be judged by whoever down the road!  Doesn't matter!  Now your out! just go away.  I don't give a crap and am tired of seeing this BS every time I open a web page.


Wear roses in Heaven if you get there, or Burn in HeII! either way get lost!



pirate
pirate

For those who live their lives by the collected myths of the Bronze Age (the Old Testament) I have two questions: 

1 - Which would be more moral, for Michael Sam to continue to live a lie, implying by his silence that he was something he wasn't, OR, to be honest, before the draft so that any team that picked him would know up front what they were getting?


2 - In what way does Michael Sam's sexual preference, or anyone's sexual preference for that matter, affect your life? Does it in any way impact your behavior or beliefs? No one is asking YOU to be gay, and you can't catch gay from him. (And for those answering "he can do whatever he wants but keep it to himself, see question 1.) 

Just to let him be who he is. You get to live openly as who you are. All gay people are asking is that same right, to not have to hide who they are and pretend to be something else.

JohnBaldwin
JohnBaldwin

 OK coreykep. I appreciate your position as a Christian. I am one myself. However, I am also a human being who has never, ever had a right to judge another human being for any reason. Of course we can refer to the bible about homosexuality but lets remember and consider that, in Genesis 18:26-32 Abraham begged that God spare Sodom if he found 10 righteous persons in the town. God chose to not do as he originally intended because of Abrahams pleading. My point of this is not to condone sin nor to show that Michael Sam is a sinner, but to show that God can change his mind even if prompted by us lowly humans. Abraham, although blessed by God, was a lowly man in essence. In other words, if God's mind can be changed, perhaps his mind can change about homosexuality and they all will be judged by their actions on earth not whether they are heterosexual or homosexual. Who are we to say that he won't.  


It's important that we finally as a society realize that people's sexual orientation is something they were born with, not something they choose. Even if it takes a long time for them to realize it it is something they are and that should not be denied or ignorantly discouraged so those of us who are not gay or lesbian can live comfortably and shielded from it. We must move on from homophobia. We were not made to fear each other just because we have a different sexual orientation. There are far greater things to be concerned about in this world, like real criminals who have no moral conscience and rapists who are addicted to heinous act they perform on undeserving victims. Those are the kinds of things our society needs to address. Not a gay man who most likely be a very good professional football player. God bless Michael Sam and good luck to him.


coreykep
coreykep

Being a Christian, most people would probably tell me it is none of my business that Michale Sam is gay, and keep my opinion to myself... Why are his teammates so relieved he told them the "Truth" like he owes someone an explanation, if of course it is no one's business. Does his teammates air their laundry list of sins and get praised for it also? Why not?

AhContraire
AhContraire

Want to be really brave? Why not face the real truth and ask these 2 medical questions/points?


That is, Doesn't the medical community recommend that you, "Wash your hands after you go to the bathroom."?

Yet, now there are some in the medical community that now say it's OK to "Sleep with the waste that gets flushed down in the toilet?" and that it's possible to live a perfectly normal life.


Twitter Handle: AhContraire

rjrivo
rjrivo

What difference does it make if is any athlete is gay? All players on all teams should focus on winning the appropriate teams' championship. If, in fact, the executives, coaches or staffs have a problem with this, those people need guidance, not the player. As a Pats fan, I can only hope the teams picking higher have a problem with this and let Mr. Sam slip to the Pats pick. Mr. Kraft et al should snap him up in a heartbeat.

JaJade
JaJade

Nothing brave about his at all.  I want to see who is brave enough to openly speak up against him, and his reveling what should be private, that being his sex life.    What did he do so brave? He is getting nothing but praise which he knew things were set up for. ESPN and other media have been long pushing for this. 

Kenny2Thorough
Kenny2Thorough

Just curious. Are there any atheist here who oppose homosexuality? It seems that some atheist see promoting homosexuality as a way to get one up on the Christians.

paulflorez
paulflorez

@Marima  I've never read an article or heard a report about people being worried about him evangelizing in the locker room.  Tebow was very vocal about his faith, the media reported what he said, and it helped his popularity.  Popularity isn't everything though, and ultimately Tebow was not successful in the NFL for two reasons: he was a mediocre quarterback and he refused to be anything but a quarterback.


If Michael Sam does not shine, his celebrity will fade off into oblivion just as Tebow's has.  If he shines though, it will be groundbreaker, for though we've had many, many openly Christian football players (Kurt Warner, Phillip Rivers, etc), Michael Sam will be the first openly gay football player.

Whatever
Whatever

@BobWills  You're ridiculous. I guess the Biblical saying, "Judge not lest ye be judged" (paraphrased), doesn't apply when something offends your personal sense of right and wrong? What happened to love the sinner, hate the sin (since you consider homosexuality a sin)?


Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, no matter how much you Christians insist he did. Humans are made to have sex, and to have sex beyond a certain time of the year like an animal in heat. We use sex to express love, maintain familial ties, and bond with our fellow humans. Just because your pastor/priest/minister adopted some dogma from a ruling church body doesn't make that less true.


Perhaps you should spend less time worrying about what Michael Sam and other homosexuals are doing and keep an eye on your own church leaders. Considering the Catholic Church just released records of how it hid and covered up for hundreds of priests who sexually abused children, and then for DECADES refused to take any responsibility for those priests and denied the widespread problem existed, you should get your own glass house in order before throwing stones at someone else.

kyyled5
kyyled5

@BobWills It is a sad day when a person willingly chooses to offend human decency and intellect by invoking the bronze-age myths of semitic herdsmen as his argument against personal freedom. I feel no ill will towards the bigots. I feel sorry for them and the myopic, self-righteous worldview they have adopted or had foisted upon them in their youth. I am sicked by the media and societal and league response that this will unequivocally hurt his draft stock. I felt the same way when Kerry Rhodes wasn't signed despite being a top-10 safety in the NFL. We tolerate bigotry and prejudice in the name of "respect" for others' "beliefs", however repugnant they may be and however little the actions of others affect said bigots' lives. I do not expect the religious types to do anything other that what they are doing. But it is up to people from the 21st century, people who have evolved past imaginary friends and imagined moral high ground, to draw the line and build a better society.

Clink127
Clink127

@rh2000 You know web sites track the number of clicks, right? It's a big part of how they decide what stories are getting traction, and what stories are worth continuing to pursue. So you not only clicked on this, but you commented on it. You are helping sustain a story you say you don't want to hear about anymore.

MartyJenkins
MartyJenkins

@pirate I only wish we could arrive at a place in society where I dont have to hear about someones personal sexual choices.... I understand this particular one, but in general its getting old, and  quickly

coreykep
coreykep

@JohnBaldwin Michael Sam was not born gay, he was born a sinner. Just because a man is attracted to many women does not give him the right to commit adultery. Also just because someone like money doesn't give them the right to steal. My point was this: Michael Sam deserves no credit for coming out of the closet if it is no one's business what his sexual preference is. Why don't his teammates come out and announce their sins publicly and receive praise? Abraham pleaded with God because his nephew Lot lived in Sodom and Gomorrah.

AnnaBry
AnnaBry

@coreykep  His teammates, the majority, doesn't get praised for airing a laundry list because it's all the same sins.  The majority usually rather gangs up and judges more harshly the sins of the minority.  It make them feel better about their own sins.  That's why there's homophobia and not adulteraphobia nor gluttonaphobia.  It's news to see participants in a college football program not act that way.  

AnnaBry
AnnaBry

@coreykep  We don't get credit for airing our laundry lists, because for the majority they're basically all the same sins. The majority tends to put down and gang up on the minority if you will.   It's a way of letting us feel like our sins aren't as bad as others, and it makes us feel better about ourselves.

Fabled1
Fabled1

@JaJade  yeah, right, change your name to hypocrite, because a straight player saying they're dating a super-model or actress, etc, isn't 'reveling in what should be private.'  And while you're at it you pious bigot, why aren't you 'brave enough' to speak out against the NFL players whose wives and kids are on the field with them?  They get 'nothing but praise.'  Or why aren't you 'brave enough' to speak out against players who flaunt their religion on the field and 'reveling in what should be private?'  Or can this young man be honest and open about himself without your pathetic double-standard of judging him while not judging straight players who share their private lives openly?  

mystafugee
mystafugee

@JaJade  Reveling in what should be private?  Is that why NFL teams were sniffing around trying to find out if he's gay (yes, that's what they were doing).  The reason he came out is because you might as well control it yourself rather than let others do it for you.  It is brave what he did since as you can see from NFL GM's and scouts, apparently the NFL isn't too accepting (although I think the GM's and scouts are out of touch with today's players who likely are much more accepting). 

mikemc2nite
mikemc2nite

Apparently You don't understand that Your Sexuality Shouldn't be known unless you're in the (Porn Industry) Fags Are Always Forcing People to Recognize with they do in the Bedroom. KILL YOURSELF

kyyled5
kyyled5

@Kenny2Thorough Being an atheist means you value logic over feelings/wishes. Being anti-gay means you value feelings/wishes over logic. It's a small Venn diagram overlap, if any.

Puppy
Puppy

@kyyled5 @BobWills kyyled5  well  said  I  wouldn't  have  been  as  diplomatic  with  adults  who  still  believe  in  fairy  tales

Whatever
Whatever

@coreykep @JohnBaldwin  coreykep, I suppose you walk down the street and profess your sins to people you meet? Do you admit you leer at the SI Swimsuit issue and beg forgiveness for your desires? Do you admit your envy of professional athletes, who can perform better than you and make more money than you? When did you stop beating your wife? /s/

If you are so pure as new fallen snow, then by all means, cast the first stone. But I suspect you are not, because no one is. 

The entire point is Sam is no longer lying to people. He is being who he is, to the best extent he knows how to be.

And for all you Christians who claim God made us in His image, well, He also then made Michael Sam a gay man. No matter whether you believe homosexuality is genetic or chosen behavior, Sam is as he is. So you either believe God controls everything, which means He controlled Sam being gay, or you must acknowledge that God does not control us, in which case you need to re-adjust how much you believe God rules you.

JohnBaldwin
JohnBaldwin

@coreykep @JohnBaldwin  His coming out was to avoid the backlash of what keeping that secret could cause him in the future. Why should he keep it a secret and yes he was born a sinner, like all of us by the way, but that doesn't mean he committed any sin by publicly admitting he was gay. I think your examples about adultery and stealing hold little weight here. He did not commit a sin by admitting he was gay. He just never wanted it to be an issue in his adult life so that he could have all the opportunities that all people deserve and when facing the prospect of getting drafted to an NFL team he didn't want his chances diminished by his being gay. Let's not pretend that his sexual orientation wouldn't have been divulged in some other way that he has no control over. That, I believe, is why he came out. 

stabmasterarson21
stabmasterarson21

@Fabled1 @JaJade  Yet you just judged that guy by calling him a hypocrite.  You probably don't see it or will admit up to it though.

Clink127
Clink127

@NeilMcCauley He is courageous because he is the first person in his chosen field to be open about this part of who he is. He is courageous because the choice to make public his sexual orientation opens him to excessive scrutiny, media attention (positive and negative), and attacks on his character. It would have been much easier for him to keep his head down and stay quiet about his orientation. He chose the road less traveled, and that is brave.

pirate
pirate

@mikemc2nite   This is WAY over the top. You should be ashamed of yourself. There's a way to debate a point without being so out right offensive.


And besides being a fool, you're also illogical. A straight player kisses his wife after the game, or proposes on the field after the big win. I know his sexual preference. Homosexuals only want the same right, to be allowed to be who hew or she is, honestly. It doesn't hurt you for someone else to lovce who he or she wants to. It has no affect on you. So stop acting like this is aimed at you.


You should apologize for your obscene rant.

AnnaBry
AnnaBry

@stabmasterarson21 @AnnaBry @coreykep  The definition of homophobia is an extreme or irrational fear of homosexuals or homosexual activity, so how am I redefining it?  

I'm just trying to point out the hypocritical nature of acting like one sin is far greater than others--so much so that there's obvious hatred in society, while sins of being a glutton or selfish or lustful aren't considered sins because everybody can relate to those things (as in mainstream media, advertising, etc)  Do you have more shoes or coats than you need?  Shouldn't you give them away?  That's a sin.  And it actually hurts people that could use your help.  But everybody does it, so it goes completely unnoticed and "un-hated."

CliftonHamilton
CliftonHamilton

@stabmasterarson21 @Fabled1@JaJade
He didn't say he wasn't allowed to judge.  Do you not know the definition of hypocrite?  He complained he was judging one side negatively for doing exactly what the other side does while only receiving positive judgements.

To judge people by these players by two different standards is hypocritical.  Judging itself is not the problem.

However, you seem to have a problem with judging in general, and then just judged him negatively for having the nerve to judge someone else.  THAT makes YOU a hypocrite, because you're failing at your own rule.

Congrats, for exemplifying the irony you were attempting to call someone else out on.

CliftonHamilton
CliftonHamilton

@MartyJenkins @Clink127@NeilMcCauley

No, if he was attention seeking he would have come out in a press conference while he was still in college.  Instead he quietly came out to his friends, family, and teammates.

Did you even read the article?

He was either going to come out, or he was going to be outed.  This wasn't a publicity stunt, it was a man taking control of his own life and writing his own story rather than having other people write it for him.

And he hasn't received universal praise.  Please take a better look reading through these comments.  He's received quite a bit of hate.  Once you start having millions of people comment negatively about your morality, your soul, and of course, your sexual activity, then you can tell us how wonderful it is.  Until then, your opinion means very little.

MartyJenkins
MartyJenkins

@Clink127 @NeilMcCauley its not necessarily brave when you get massive public helpings of praise... in a way that you knew in advance you would get


sure his life is harder in some areas, but some of it it just attention seeking

Clink127
Clink127

@NeilMcCauley It's national news because it's still a brave choice to live openly in a world where people like @mikemc2nite will use offensive language (and, too often, physical violence) against people who are interested only in living their lives. I would place good money on the idea that many gay people long for the day when their lives don't garner this kind of attention.

NeilMcCauley
NeilMcCauley

@pirate @mikemc2nite  umm your right it has no EFFECT on me , so whys it a big deal and national news everytime someone comes out??? WHY IS THAT 

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