Pinkel, MU fans rally around Sam after blockbuster announcement - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Pinkel, MU fans rally around Sam after blockbuster announcement

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COLUMBIA, MO (KCTV) -

University of Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel and others are rallying around former Tiger standout Michael Sam after his blockbuster announcement that he is gay as he prepares for the NFL draft.

Sam is expected to be taken in the first to third round in the draft. Some have hinted that some teams may steer clear of Sam as he aims to become the NFL's first openly gay player. Donte Stallworth fired back that if a team has a problem with a gay player and the media scrutiny then they are a losing team on the field. 

Sam, who was the top defensive player for both the Tigers and the SEC, told his teammates last August about his sexual orientation. Others have known for years.

In a news conference Monday afternoon, Pinkel said he completely backs Sam, and that MU has a culture of respecting differences and supporting each other.

"We are going to be respectful, caring and kind to every one of our teammates," he said.

He said he believes Sam's announcement won't affect his draft selection.

"The NFL recognizes societal changes like we all do," Pinkel said.

However, Pinkel admitted it could have been a distraction if Sam had come out during his final year at MU. He said the two of them talked and Sam said he would make his announcement after the Tigers played in the Cotton Bowl.

"I came to tell the world I am an openly proud gay man," Sam said during his interview with ESPN that aired Sunday night.

He said telling the world was, "A load off my chest."

Some fans gave Sam a big shout out. They used the MU emblem at the football field and scrawled into the snow "S" and "A" to spell out "SAM." In a tweet, Sam said it gave him chills.

"I told my teammates this past August. I came out to my teammates and they took it great. They rallied around me. They supported me and I couldn't have asked for better teammates," he told ESPN.

He said he knew from an early age that he was "attracted to guys," but it took some time for him to be comfortable with his sexual orientation.

Some former NFL players have said they are gay.

Wade Davis announced he was gay after his playing days were over. The cornerback played for three teams.

Last April, Jason Collins became the first active male professional athlete in a major North American team sport to come out publicly as gay. He was an NBA player, and hoped to get a new contract but no team signed him after his announcement.

Sam, who is in Los Angeles preparing for the pre-draft combine, met with Collins for two days before his interview with ESPN.

"He is a great young man who has shown tremendous courage and leadership," Collins said this week in a tweet about Sam.

Sam made clear he realizes what a pioneer he is.

"I'm Michael Sam. And I'm a football player. I want to be a football player in the NFL. I understand how big this is. This is a big deal, no one has done this before and it's kind of a nervous process. But I know what I want to be," he said. "I want to be a player in the NFL. . . . I'm not afraid of whom I am. I'm not afraid to tell the world who I am. I am Michael Sam. I am a college graduate. I'm African American and I'm gay."

He said telling the world that he is gay and making international headlines isn't by far the toughest moment he has faced.

"I endured so much in my past, so much tragedy," he said. "Growing up seeing my older brother killed from a gunshot wound. Not knowing my older sister who died when she was a baby, and I never got the chance to meet her. My second oldest brother went missing, and me and my little sister were the last ones to see him alive. And we pronounced him dead two years later. My other two brothers being in and out of jail since eighth grade and currently both in jail. You know there were some hardships, some tragedies and some adversity," he said. "Telling the world I'm gay is nothing compared to that."

MU students said they hope he is drafted high and has a great career in the NFL. Some students said they took pride in the announcement, and they believe it is newsworthy.

Struby Struble, MU's LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) Resource Center coordinator, said she hopes Sam is the first of other NFL players to come out.

"His coming out is going to do amazing wonders," she said. "And I think it's going to do much for young athletes that can look up and say, 'I can be gay and still play.'"

Representatives for the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants were among those calling Sam courageous on Monday. The Kansas City Chiefs declined comment.

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