Michael Sam is an All-American in more ways than one.
As an athlete, a team player and an NFL prospect from a hardscrabble background, Mr. Sam is impressive. As a college student, an African-American campus leader and a young man with a future, Mr. Sam is respected.
And now that the adjective gay will forever precede his name, and is there by his own choice, Mr. Sam has shown the courage and honesty that will put him in many personal halls of fame, no matter the direction of his athletic future.
Profile in courage
That he had the guts to come out to his teammates months ago, to campus friends years ago, and to the world on Sunday, shows the core of Mr. Sam. These are the qualities that make a person an All-American in life, and not just on the playing field.
That he did this before April's NFL draft, where he is predicted to be a mid-round selection, took an added dollop of gumption. Mr. Sam, a defensive lineman for the Tigers and Mizzou's first unanimous All-American in 50 years, told the media that he wanted to focus on playing football and graduating and didn't want his sexuality to be a distraction.
"I want to own my own truth," is the way Mr. Sam put it. And now he does.
No more hiding in the shadows, pretending to be something he isn't. Mr. Sam, 24, is out, loud and proud. Good for him.
And good for his teammates, Coach Gary Pinkel and his staff, and athletic director Mike Alden. They have given a textbook demonstration on how to handle what shouldn't be — but still is — a delicate issue of a personal nature on a very public stage.
Other athletes courageously have come out about their sexuality, but usually in the twilight of their careers, or even in retirement. Mr. Sam's pro career is just dawning.
It's great that the NFL says it has his back. Greg Aiello, NFL senior vice president of communications, said in a statement: "We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014."
Society is changing, as well as the culture of professional sports. Marriage used to mean one thing, and now it means more things. The idea of what a family is used to be narrowly defined, but now people accept that it can mean bonds of friendship as well as blood.
And changing, too, thanks in part to Mr. Sam, is the definition of a football player and a teammate.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been working on heightening awareness in the league about sexual orientation and harassment. He sent a policy statement to coaches, team presidents and general managers last year saying anyone involved in drafting players or making personnel decisions "must not seek information" about their sexuality.
No one will have to wonder about Mr. Sam. He put it out there. Now it's up to a team to draft him and let him play the game. No questions asked.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.