With some calling him the Jackie Robinson of football, Mizzou defensive end Michael Sam made history over the weekend when he came out in advance of the NFL draft.
The 24-year-old All-American University of Missouri Tigers star let his teammates know he was gay last August, but when he revealed it to the world in a series of high-profile interviews, Sam instantly earned the distinction of potentially becoming the first active openly gay player in NFL history.
"I looked in their eyes, and they just started shaking their heads — like, finally, he came out," Sam told the paper about his teammates' reaction.
The NFL released a statement saying it admired his courage and honesty. "Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014."
Now it's time for the world to react to the news and, not surprisingly, Sam is getting a lot of support from both the football world and those outside of sports for his brave decision to break one of the biggest barriers in professional sports. While NBA journeyman Jason Collins opened the door a bit last year by coming out while not actively playing hoops, it remains to be seen how, or if, Sam's revelation will impact what most have predicted will be a potentially exciting pro career.
Here are some prominent reactions to Sam's announcement:
Former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber said it was about time the NFL "show its colors."
Great courage by SEC Def POY...It's time for the NFL to show it's colors!⚡️"NFL Prospect Michael Sam Comes Out http://t.co/HRKzwUeS2M"— Tiki Barber (@TikiBarber) February 10, 2014
Hall of Fame cornerback/receiver Deion "Prime Time" Sanders noted that Sam isn't, technically, the first gay player in the NFL, but just the first to announce it at the beginning of his career.
Michael Sam isn't the 1st gay player in the NFL although he is the 1st 2 come out.#realtalk Let's show him love like a family member. Truth— DeionSanders (@DeionSanders) February 10, 2014
First Lady Michelle Obama called Sam an "inspiration" and said she and President Obama were proud of his courage.
You're an inspiration to all of us, @MikeSamFootball. We couldn't be prouder of your courage both on and off the field. -mo— FLOTUS (@FLOTUS) February 10, 2014
Collins, who has not played in the NBA since his announcement, spent the weekend with Sam helping him navigate the reaction to the announcement and also praised his leadership.
For the past 2 days I have met with @MikeSamFootball here in LA. He is a great young man who has shown tremendous courage and leadership— Jason Collins (@jasoncollins34) February 10, 2014
There were, of course, some detractors and people who were less than supportive, including inactive wide receiver Chad Johnson, who wrote, "That took some courage but man his draft stock is going to plummet even though it should be based on production and how he can contribute!!"
Sam, though, chose to focus on the positive and thank those who encouraged him.