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Athlete Understands What It's Like in Sam's Shoes

Michael Sam, an All-American defensive lineman and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, has announced he's gay. He's the first college football player to publicly declare his homosexuality. On social media, reaction to the announcement has been mixed. But everyone we talked to at Indiana State University and Rose-Hulman are very supportive - especially one former athlete who's been in Sam's shoes.
Michael Sam, an All-American defensive lineman and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, has announced he's gay.

He's the first college football player to publicly declare his homosexuality.

On social media, reaction to the announcement has been mixed. But everyone we talked to at Indiana State University and Rose-Hulman are very supportive - especially one former athlete who's been in Sam's shoes.

"I'm not afraid of who I am. I'm not afraid to tell the world of who I am. I am Michael Sam. I'm a college graduate. I'm African American. And I'm gay."

Just months away from the NFL draft, those words are making waves worldwide, as Michael Sam potentially stands to be the first openly gay player in NLF history.

And for Sarah Irish, president of Rose-Hulman's Unity Alliance, it's about time.

"Somebody has to take that first step. Somebody has to be the catalyst.  Because who knows who else is out there," said Irish, a senior at Rose.

And she knows what Sam is going through.

Irish was a competitive shooter for many years - and hid her own sexuality.

"I did some national championships, world championships... and the whole time, I kinda felt like I was lying to myself," she recalls. "It's really hard to be in that situation, because I'm not fully out there, being myself, because there were no role models. I didn't have that person like Michael to look up to."

But now, a new generation of athletes can see Sam as a role model.

ISU's Spectrum group agrees, telling us:  "Michael's decision to be an out and proud athlete will be great for young people to see... his story will be inspirational to young LGBT athletes." 

And advocates are hoping Sam's brave step will break down barriers for years to come.

"The atmosphere, I think - I hope - in America is changing with regards to this. And I hope it continues to get better," said Irish. "Especially for those older teenagers out there... make them more comfortable, saying hey he did it, I can too."

On Monday, U.S. Attorney Eric Holder announced same-sex marriages will be recognized to the greatest possible extent under federal law.

This expansion includes Indiana and 33 other states where same-sex marriage isn't legal. It includes bankruptcies, prison visits and survivor benefits.


Here's the rest of the statement from Dylan Wright, director of programming for Spectrum
"I have been watching football my entire life. It is something my dad and I shared when I was young, and my future wife and I also enjoy together. As a supporter of both football and gay rights, I am very proud of Michael Sam's accomplishments on and off the field. Being open about sexuality in the world of sports can be extremely difficult, especially in a professional organization like the NFL. The question of whether or not the NFL and its fans are ready to accept openly gay athletes has surfaced within the last few years with rumors of current players allegedly considering coming out, and what kind of response the organization, team(s), and player(s) would receive from the world. But for me, what I see in a professional athlete is their ability, their attitude, and their contribution to society off the field.

Michael Sam may continue to be marginalized by society and the media but his stats stand out to me, as they should for anyone considering him in the NFL draft. He's been projected for 3rd round in the draft, and some say that number will drop now that he's out as a gay athlete. But the teams that are considering him need to think about how he can help them win games, not who he loves. And he can really help some of those teams win games, namely the Jaguars, Titans, Vikings, and the Bucs. They sorely need a good defensive end, and his numbers can speak for themselves to these teams. These franchises are perfectly capable of seeing what really matters here- they want to win games, and he can help them. They also face the world as advocates for the LGBT community by treating Michael the same way they treat everyone else.

Michael's decision to be an out and proud athlete will be great for young people to see. There is so much potential in our youth of America to be played out, and if someone's sexuality were not a factor in the possibility of their success in sports, we would see an incredible amount of talent added to what we already see in sports today. His story will be inspirational to young LGBT athletes. As far as fans go, I personally feel that if they cannot support their team because a gay athlete plays for them, they should examine why they watch the sport, and reassess what truly matters in the spirit of the game. I do believe that sometime in the future, sports fans will become more tolerant towards LGBT athletes."
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