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Missouri athletes, alumni react to Michael Sam announcement

Sunday, February 9, 2014 | 11:53 p.m. CST; updated 7:03 a.m. CST, Monday, February 10, 2014

COLUMBIA — Michael Sam announced publicly he is gay Sunday. The announcement received lots of reactions from around the sports world, including former Missouri athletes, alumni, an NFL scout and Cyd Zeigler of OutSports.com. Here's some of what they told the Missourian on Sunday:

Greg DeStephen, former Missouri diver. The only previous openly gay Missouri athlete

"Being the first at anything is difficult. But perceptions change over time — I've experienced that first hand," said DeStephen.

"His teammates have known for so long that he is gay, and that didn't stop him from being an All-American football player his senior year," DeStephen said. "I don't see any barriers to his success in the NFL, especially since there have been so many outspoken athletes who are in the NFL that are saying it's time for change. We're ready for athletes to come out."

Jessica Greer, friend of Sam and former Missouri soccer player

"I’m just really proud of him for doing it," Greer said. "There are a lot of athletes that haven’t. I think that shows a tremendous amount of courage to step up and do it before the NFL draft or the combine. I think it shows a lot about his character that he stopped hiding it. He’s not ashamed of who he is."

Greer is currently a soccer coach at the University of Arkansas. Sam came out to Greer back in 2009.

John Middlekauff, former Philadelphia Eagles scout

"He told his teammates, and he told his coach," Middlekauff said. "If you're an NFL executive, that's all that matters.

"He's going to struggle to make a team. His stats are all over in terms of the way he got them. That stuff hurts him."

Middlekauff said Sam is a fifth or sixth rounder.

Struby Struble, coordinator at MU's LGBTQ Center

"We are so proud of Michael," Struble said. "We're thrilled to be a part of the important work our university is doing supporting and celebrating all Tigers."

Mechelle Voepel, 1987 MU graduate and openly gay ESPN reporter and columnist

"I'm proud that the football program and the university have created an environment where this young man feels confident," Voepel said.

"As somebody that went to school there in the 1980s, that wasn't something that was present then. The first thing I thought when this came out was, 'Wow, how far we've come.' It really means a lot to me personally that the university has this kind of commitment to diversity and to making people feel confident that they can be themselves at the university.

"I think it means something that this is coming from the middle of the country," Voepel said. "I'm a Midwesterner. I think maybe people would have thought that this person would have come from one of the coasts or from a school on the East Coast or in the Northeast, just for the reason thinking those are progressive places. I think the fact that this young man comes from a university right in the middle of the United States, I think that's noteworthy."

Cyd Zeigler, publisher of OutSports.com

"The NFL is king in our culture," said Zeigler. "It’s probably the most powerful culture force that we have. When you can access the NFL, change happens real quick. They’ve done some great work the last few years of changing the culture in the NFL. I think we are going to see how far the NFL has come in the next eight months.

"I’m proud of the guy," Zeigler said. "This is not an easy step. I think the NFL has been ready for this for many years. But it’s never easy to come out. To do it in the right public form in a groundbreaking way is deeply powerful."


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