COLUMBIA — Missouri defensive end Michael Sam knew the time was right.
He knew when he got to Missouri that he was gay. He knew before his All-American season in 2013 that he was ready to tell his teammates. And now, as he prepares for the 2014 NFL Draft, he knows the time is right for him to announce his sexuality publicly.
"I believe it’s the right time," Sam told the Missourian in a phone interview Sunday night. "It’s a time I can finally tell my story and how I want to tell it."
The story of Sam announcing his sexuality began in August. Sam came out to his teammates during a meeting on Aug. 15. He thought about coming out to the Missourian before the season began and says his team supported him in that decision. But, he had a change of heart and decided not to talk to the media throughout the season.
"I wasn’t quite prepared," Sam said. "Later, I wanted to focus on my season, and I didn’t want that attention on myself at that time."
Talking to his teammates was enough. Sam had the best season of his career, collecting 19 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks and earning the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year award in the process.
"I felt relieved," Sam said. "I felt I can finally be myself. I was happy with who I am. I was comfortable in my own skin, and my teammates rallied around me.
"I never got any negativity. No one said anything. All my teammates were very supportive, the coaches were supportive and the whole athletic department was supportive."
Sam said no one from Missouri football or the athletics department persuaded him from coming out before or during the team's 2013 season.
"No, never," Sam said. "They told me that, 'Hey, if you want to tell your story, man, we are going to be behind you 100 percent all the way.' I just wanted to tell it on my own and wanted to focus on the season. I had a great season. We all did."
Even before coming out to his team, Sam felt comfortable going to the Columbia gay bar The SoCo Club. He went there regularly and even danced with other guys.
"At that time, I knew who I was," Sam said. "I knew I was gay, and I felt in a comfortable environment."
Sam felt in control of his story while in Columbia, but at the Senior Bowl in late January, Sam started to feel he might not have control of his story much longer.
"Some people tried to call people and dig up on me," Sam said. "Even though it was open knowledge (in Columbia), I wasn’t hiding anything. I was comfortable with myself, but people tried to dig stuff on me and do a story. I wanted to tell my story the way I wanted to."
Sam realized after the Senior Bowl he could not wait too much longer to come out.
"I wanted to tell my story the way I wanted to," Sam said. "I didn’t want anyone to ask me or trick me into talking about my sexuality."
On Sunday night, Sam announced his sexuality on multiple media outlets. He knows he has the potential to be one of the most prominent gay athletes yet, and he's prepared for the attention that will come along with that. He's not worried, either.
"No, not at all," Sam said. "I know who I am. I know what I have to do. I’m not scared. I’m not afraid."
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.