After Missouri senior defensive end Michael Sam publicly announced he is gay, likely the initial step in becoming the first openly gay player in the NFL, his story trended nationally on social media.
But members of the LGBT community felt something beyond simple interest.
Joy. Happiness. Relief.
“I think it’s one of the most important coming-outs in our culture’s history,” said Cyd Zeigler, the 1999 co-founder of Outsports.com, a website devoted to breaking down homophobia in sports. “With the power the NFL has in our culture and the stereotype that a gay man can’t play football, this has the power to change national perception.”
Maybe it already has.
David Alonzo, the co-chairman for the Greater Kansas City chapter of the Gay, Lesbian Straight Education Network, focused on the acceptance Sam said he received from his teammates on the Missouri football team.
“I’d say I felt a sense of pride when I heard the story,” Alonzo said. “But I think what we’re most most happy with is that he seemed to have the full support from his teammates and his coaches. And the fact they brought in (workshops) to educate his teammates, we’re very happy with that. That’s a great, great sign.”
Alonzo’s organization provides safe-place training for local schools and educational organizations. Alonzo said the Greater Kansas City chapter hopes to soon enact similar workshops for youth sports programs.
And that’s where Alonzo believes Sam’s announcement will be felt most within the LGBT community over the long term.
“I think it’s very helpful for kids involved in sports at all levels,” Alonzo said. “It will give them the courage to also express their true selves and give them the confidence that they can also be accepted when they do.”
NBA center Jason Collins was offered similar support when he came out in April 2013, but he hasn’t played in an NBA game since his announcement.
A gay player in the NFL would be even more beneficial, given its perceived tough-guy culture, says Paul Guequierre, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, which has a Kansas City chapter.
“I think this will fill a void, which is much needed in the LGBT community for young people in sports and for adults as well,” Guequierre said. “It’s so important to have this happen. We’ve been waiting for a while to have this happen.
“Jason Collins did a lot for the community and for national acceptance. I think this will do even more of that. It will show people that gay people can play football just like anybody else.
“The young people in sports who question their identity, they may now feel they can do anything they want. They now have a role model, and that’s something to celebrate.”
It’s something the LBGTQ Resource Center on the University of Missouri campus plans to celebrate, said coordinator Struby Struble, who expects more participation following Sam’s announcement. The letters S and A could be seen drawn in the snow next to the “Rock M” in the Memorial Stadium end zone on Monday, an apparent message of support for Sam.
“I think a lot of people who occasionally come by will make a point to stop by to help in the celebration,” Struble said. “We’ve often been a celebratory place, and we try to be that home for people to come and feel those good feelings.”Megan K. Armstrong, Special to The Star, contributed to this report from Columbia.