Adam Amel Rogers is Project Specialist at the Lear Center.
On January 20, publicist Howard Bragman sent a text to Outsports co-founder Cyd Zeigler that read, “The eagle has landed.” The moment had arrived – standout NFL prospect Michael Sam was ready to come out.
Zeigler penned an exclusive look at the behind-the-scenes collaborative process that then led up to the public announcement, which was executed seamlessly.
This polished coming out scenario is the result of years of preparation for what this moment would and should be like. There have been numerous events and discussions about the gay/sports intersection throughout the years, including the USC Sports & The LGBT Experienceconference that I co-directed last October.
I have spent many years daydreaming about what the player would be like and I even conducted a content analysis of how Hollywood has portrayed this moment. Thus far, Michael Sam exceeds all expectations. I love that he is the toughest guy on the field and that he isn’t from some progressive oasis, he is from a small conservative town in Texas. I also love that he was openly gay at the University of Missouri, in the Southeastern Conference – a place and a conference that is not typically known for being LGBT friendly.
In another conference session, I had the honor of interviewing former NFL running back Dave Kopay, who was the first professional athlete to come out after retiring in 1975. Dave never thought it would take this long for an active NFL player to follow in his footsteps, but when Sam gets drafted, I’m sure it will be worth the wait.
Kopay, along with other gay athletes like former football player Wade Davis and baseball player Billy Bean were able to spend time with Sam before his coming out. They and other trailblazing athletes shared their experiences with our conference attendees and it is comforting to know that Michael Sam will be armed with their wisdom as he embarks on this trying journey.
Now it is up to the NFL to live up to the example put forth by Sam’s University of Missouri coaches and teammates, who not only dealt with having a gay teammate, but they made a national title run with one. So instead of pretending that Sam isn’t as good as he was a week ago and hiding behind words like “distraction” and “media circus,” executives should be figuring out how the Co-Defensive Player of the Year in college football’s best conference can improve their team.