Michael Sam’s pro day, held at the University of Missouri, was everything his performance at the NFL combine was not: a rousing success. With representatives from almost every NFL team and more than a dozen cameras on the scene, the man attempting to become the first openly gay player in the NFL player put on quite the show. The SEC defensive player of the year ran the forty-yard dash in 4.72 seconds, two-tenths of a second faster than his earlier time. He also improved his jumping and strength measurables, showing the league-ready athleticism and explosive form that NFL teams were looking to see. True to form, Sam went about his business as if it was not a media spectacle, giving the brush-off to the media—including Albert Breer from the NFL network—when they approached him for comments. The Missouri pro day wasn’t just for Sam, but for all former Missouri Tigers looking to make the league. The cameras were there for Michael Sam, but he made clear that he was not there for the cameras.
Sam has said repeatedly that he wants to be seen as “just a football player” who happens to be gay. He also clearly knows that this is what he has to say to move forward as an NFL rookie, and that his mere presence on the football field will speak volumes.
Yet as Sam moves forward, he is taking pains to pay tribute to the collective, the mass and the base of support that created the conditions, which allowed him to take this historic step. Just as he met with the former NFL players who were public about their sexuality after their retirement, he also penned a letter, posted to Facebook, to the University of Missouri. It is worth being read and reread. It is also a heartening reminder to the cynics that the young generation coming up is in so many respects an improvement, with the capacity to make this a more humane place. In late February the state Senate of Missouri introduced one of those “religious freedom bills” that open the door to allow businesses to refuse service to people they perceive to be part of the LGBT community. Hatred, fear and suspicion: that’s life in the Missouri statehouse bubble. It is not life on the campus. Michael Sam’s letter does not openly reference the Missouri students who formed a picket line with buttons that read “Stand with Sam” in confrontation with Westboro Baptist Church, when they showed up to protest Michael Sam. It is nice to think that this display was one memory Fred Phelps got to take to the grave.
The ugly past versus a better future. Read, share and enjoy Michael Sam’s open letter to his school:
To my fellow University of Missouri students, athletes, faculty, alumni and supporters:
From my first recruiting trip to the University of Missouri, I felt something extraordinary and special—something I didn’t feel anyplace else.
I didn’t have a name for it then; I do now. It’s called family. And to me that family is defined by unconditional love. Certainly you cheered my successes, but you also picked me up when I fell. Maybe most importantly, you gave me a chance to live my truth without judgment, without hesitation and with great discretion and respect. When I came out last month, I did it with the confidence that my Mizzou “family” would always be there for me. To put it mildly, the love and acceptance I felt was amazing. The day after the announcement, my name was spelled out in the stadium; fraternities hung #StandWithSam banners; then when I went to the basketball game to honor the football team’s Cotton Bowl victory, I worked hard not to cry because of the amazing reception. I have a long journey ahead of me, a lot of hard work and many dreams I want to fulfill. But I do it with the confidence that my Mizzou family will be there for me every step of the way. I will continue to work my hardest; I will strive to make you all proud.
And I will be a Tiger forever.