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SEC’s Sam should be applauded

This past Sunday was the first Sunday since August with no live football to watch.

With both the National Football League and college football seasons over, NFL executives, media members and fans shifted their attention to the upcoming NFL draft, scheduled to begin May 8. The scouting combine in Indianapolis, Ind., which features the top prospects from across the country, is just two weeks away.

One player that will be sure to garner attention in Indianapolis is Missouri’s Michael Sam.

Sam led the Southeastern Conference in sacks last season, won the SEC defensive player of the year award, and was a first-team All American. The 6 foot 1 inch, 260 pound pass-rush hybrid was projected to go in somewhere in the middle of the draft.

Sunday changed all of that, when Sam announced publicly that he is gay.

If drafted, Sam would be the first active NFL player to be openly gay. The decision to come out will be both supported and criticized by almost everyone; Sam’s statement transcends the sport because gay rights is such a polarizing issue at this time in the United States.

I am in full support of Sam and his decision to come out. I think it is one of the bravest public statements delivered in recent memory because he will now have to prove he is mentally tough enough to handle what is undoubtedly coming his way.

There are players in the NFL that will not be comfortable with a gay player in their locker room. Among these could be star-Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who spoke out against gay marriage, or cornerback Chris Culliver, who made comments against gays prior to last year’s super bowl, proclaiming that if there were any gays in their locker room, they needed to leave.

That is not to say that Sam does not have support from others. His coach at Missouri, Gary Pinkel, told the public he was proud of his star’s decision to come out.

Beyond Pinkel and the Missouri family, there are gay-rights advocates already in the NFL, including former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe and former Ravens special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo, who compared Sam to Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks.

Landmark moments like this expose the worst in some people. If you have a spare moment, run a Twitter search of Michael Sam and read some comments that are out there about him. You will see people making homophobic slurs and tweeting other ignorant comments.

For those who call Michael Sam “selfish” for coming out, you are completely missing the point. Sam has not made it all about himself; he has done the opposite.

Sam is making the ultimate sacrifice.

He will be among the most scrutinized players at the combine and in the league. His draft stock has likely taken a huge hit as well; several websites have even slid him down in their prospect rankings, including CBS Sports, which dropped him 70 spots in its rankings since the statement was released.

Sam has opened the door for other athletes to come out and follow him as their fight for equality continues. We should applaud him and any other athlete that follows his footsteps as they stand together to fight for their equal place in the world.

Teams that pass up on Sam because of his sexual orientation will be costing themselves a playmaker on the field. Players that are uncomfortable will miss out on an opportunity to fight on Sundays with a great teammate.

The message here is to open your eyes and your heart and do not let ignorance cloud your judgment.

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