University of Missouri Football

STORY OF THE YEAR: MICHAEL SAM MAKES WAVES

A year ago, only serious followers of Missouri football had a clue who Michael Sam was — and even they did not know him quite as well as they thought. Then, the previously obscure defensive end burst onto the scene as one of the most productive players in the Southeastern Conference, recording 11½ sacks and […]

A year ago, only serious followers of Missouri football had a clue who Michael Sam was — and even they did not know him quite as well as they thought.

Then, the previously obscure defensive end burst onto the scene as one of the most productive players in the Southeastern Conference, recording 11½ sacks and earning SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year and consensus All-America honors. But it was the pronouncements he made privately to teammates before the season and publicly afterward that were the reason his name was on the lips of Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey.

Michael Sam is gay.

In February, when he became the first NFL prospect to announce his homosexuality, Sam went from football standout to international superstar. The public’s reaction was mostly positive and supportive. He said his relationship with teammates didn’t change after he revealed in a preseason meeting what many of them already suspected. His presence certainly didn’t seem to distract a team that exceeded all expectations by going 12-2 and finishing fifth in the nation. Coach Gary Pinkel was hailed as a forward-thinking coach who managed an original situation perfectly.

Not everyone agreed. The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas — the group that truly doth protest too much — announced it would picket before MU’s basketball game against Tennessee on Feb. 15, where Sam would join his teammates at halftime for a ceremony honoring their Cotton Bowl championship. MU students Alix Carruth and Kelaney Lakers came up with the perfect solution, organizing a “Stand with Sam” counter rally. A few thousand showed up on a frigid afternoon, lining Stadium Boulevard and turning their backs on the 14 protesters.

As draft day approached, the question was whether the NFL would turn its back on Sam. He did not test well at the NFL combine, and his size, at 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds, was a little small for a defensive end. Then there was the potential hassle of increased media attention Sam would bring. Only eight picks remained when the St. Louis Rams took a chance and used a seventh-round selection on him. When Sam got the call, he cried and planted a kiss on his boyfriend, former MU swimmer Vito Cammisano, with ESPN’s cameras rolling.

Sam’s task now is to actually make the team and ensure he is known for more than his sexual orientation.

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Written by Emily