Michael Sam, the first openly gay football player to be drafted by an NFL team, has voiced his support for Carl Nassib, the first active player to announce he is gay.
Nassib, a defensive end for the Las Vegas Raiders, made the announcement on Instagram on Monday.
“I’m at my house here in West Chester, Pennsylvania,” he said. “I just wanted to take a quick moment to say that I’m gay.
“I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now but finally feel comfortable enough to get it off my chest. I really have the best life, I’ve got the best family, friends and job a guy can ask for.”
In a Twitter post on Tuesday, Sam thanked Nassib “for owning your truth and especially your donation to the Trevor Project”, a suicide prevention and intervention group which helps LGBTQ+ youth.
“LBGTQ+ people are more likely to commit suicide than heterosexuals,” Sam wrote. “I hope and pray people will take note to this. Thank you again Carl and look forward to seeing you play on the field.”
Sam, also a defensive end and a star at the University of Missouri, or Mizzou, was 24 and a widely touted prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft when he told ESPN: “I am an openly proud gay man.”
Cyd Zeigler, a writer for OutSports, told the Guardian on Tuesday: “The conversation Michael started contributed to where we are today.”
David Kopay, now 78, had retired as a San Francisco 49ers running back when in 1975 he became one of the first professional athletes to come out, Zeigler said. The hope was that more players would follow his example but only a few did over three decades and more. All but Sam had retired by the time they came out.
It was widely anticipated that Sam would to be chosen in the third or fourth round of the 2014 draft. He was eventually chosen by the Rams, then based in St Louis, in the seventh but did not play in a regular-season game and retired a year later, citing mental health reasons.
Ziegler, co-author of a book about Ryan O’Callaghan, a former New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs tackle who came out in 2017 and struggled with depression and opioid addiction, believes Sam was hurt by his decision to come out before the draft.
“I talk all the time about how players and fans are accepting,” Ziegler said, “but lots of coaches and front office people, they’re afraid someone like Michael would be a problem on the team”.
In contrast, Nassib has a guaranteed contract with the Raiders.
“Those people in front offices are removed from conversation and now it’s really about the teammates and the fans,” said Ziegler, adding that the NFL has a research group called NFL Pride, which supports LGBTQ+ employees and advises executives on diversity issues.
Ziegler said the media talks too much about the struggles of gay athletes and how homophobic football can be.
“Frankly, that’s not true,” he said. “It’s an accepting place where whoever can contribute to the team is welcome.”
The hardest part, he said, is coming out. “The easy part is being out. You see all the support is out there.”
That, he said, was evident in Nassib’s video.
“You can sense the joy in this guy’s voice. He’s a happy person. That’s something I love about his video – he’s saying, ‘This is me, my life is great.’”