COLUMBIA – Since Michael Sam announced he’s gay on ESPN Sunday night, the Missouri community has overwhelmingly supported the former Tigers defensive lineman. The Missouri men’s basketball team continued that trend Monday afternoon.
"I’m very proud of him. I’m proud of our university," coach Frank Haith said. "What it says is that we have tremendous leadership within our football program. What (football coach Gary Pinkel) has done, keeping that locker room the way he held that locker room, it says a lot about him."
"The way our university has handled it … I’m just very proud to be a part of this university."
Sam announced his sexuality to the team in August, but it was not made public until Sunday.
Haith, who said he has met Sam, believes the way the Missouri football team supported one of its own should be proof that teams can succeed with openly gay athletes on the roster.
"The way our season played out and the way his teammates handled themselves, I think Gary laid a footprint of how to handle it," Haith said. "I think the courage that young man has, it’s phenomenal. To do what he’s done, I think you can only just applaud him and again applaud our football program and our leadership."
Sophomore center Ryan Rosburg feels a similar sense of MU pride.
"I’m sure that’s a big monkey off his back, and I’m sure he feels so relieved knowing that it’s out there and that he doesn’t really have to hide it anymore," Rosburg said. "I think the Mizzou community has really done a good job of supporting him. Everywhere I go, I just hear good things about him and how everyone’s so proud he came from Mizzou and is staying true to himself."
Asked how he’d respond to having a gay teammate, Rosburg said that teammate would be embraced, just like Sam was with his teammates.
"I don’t think you view someone based on sexual orientation. I think you view them as your teammate," Rosburg said. "You play together; you’re in a brotherhood. You go to war together. You play football together, or basketball, whatever. I don’t think anything else should matter and I don’t think it will."
Junior guard Jordan Clarkson was surprised by Sam's announcement, but like many others around MU, he was unfazed by it.
"Love is love — it shouldn’t change a person," Clarkson said. "He is what he is. He’s a football player. He does what he does on the field, it shouldn’t matter what he does off the field."
The off-field culture at MU, Clarkson said, is much different than the one he experienced at Tulsa before he transferred. The "One Mizzou" slogan has become a company line for the MU athletics department, but Clarkson said it rings true, and that it has never been more evident than now, in the immediate aftermath of Sam’s announcement.
"It’s a family here," Clarkson said. "If something goes on inside the locker room, it stays there, between the family, between brothers. We make sure we protect each other at all times, that’s what it is."
Supervising editor is Mark Selig.