News Roundup: The NFL Awaits Michael Sam, an Openly Gay Man

gay nfl prospect michael samHe might be the best defensive player not on a National Football League roster, a chiseled 6-foot-2, 255-pound, All-American hulk from a small town in ultra-conservative Texas.

He’s widely respected by his teammates, universally loved by his coaches, and has been lauded by President Obama for his strength.

Leave it to Michael Sam, a man who eats quarterbacks for breakfast, to make his own father lose his appetite.

In an interview with ESPN on Sunday, the former University of Missouri lineman revealed to the nation what close friends and teammates had known for nearly two years: he’s gay. His father, Michael Sam Sr., learned the news by text message days earlier while celebrating his birthday in a Dallas-area Denny’s. To say he was surprised would be an understatement.

“I couldn’t eat no more, so I went to Applebee’s to have drinks,” Sam Sr. told the New York Times in an interview he now disputes. “I don’t want my grandkids raised in that kind of environment.”

The Times also reported that Sam Sr. was uncomfortable with the idea of a gay player being in the NFL, even if that player happens to be his son. (He later disputed this as well.)

Reaction outside Sam’s family to the news has been mixed, with many high-profile football players and officials applauding his courage and others expressing concern about whether he will be accepted in NFL locker rooms, known for their hyper-masculine zeal. Some are convinced Sam’s stock has significantly fallen as a result of his announcement, that he will wait longer to be selected on draft day than he would have if he’d kept quiet about his sexual orientation.

Ready or not, though, he’s coming. Expected to be a mid- to late-round selection in May’s NFL Draft, Sam stands to become the first openly gay man to play at the top level of America’s most celebrated sport.

Depending on one’s vantage point, he’ll be scrutinized, admired, and scorned. No matter how he’s viewed, though, the implications of his revelation are inescapable.

“Michael Sam choosing to come out in the national media is a huge deal that makes a statement to LGBT adults and kids all over the United States that it is important to live your truth even when sharing that truth may have potential repercussions,” said John Sovec, a Pasadena, California-based therapist and GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert contributor. “Sam’s coming out also creates an alternative picture of who gay people are and how they should be treated. Perhaps his coming out will influence how potential bullies and homophobic members of society view gay people and can shed some light that the LGBT community is represented by all shapes, sizes, colors, preferences, and professions.

“Speaking openly about his sexuality opens the doorways for change and acceptance in a world that is still shaded with fear and lack of understanding of the LGBT community.”

Susan J. Leviton, who also writes about LGBT issues for GoodTherapy.org, said the timing of Sam’s announcement underscores his conviction.

“Each time a public figure comes out, it helps destroy stereotypes and demonstrates that gay people are not demons but rather a part of our community fabric,” said Leviton, a therapist based in Encino, California. “Michael Sam deserves our admiration and support, not only for coming out in football but for doing so at this particular time, before the draft, as it may affect his future career.”

Sam is an important part of a broader movement toward greater acceptance of gay people and gay rights, Leviton said.

“The great strides in gay rights have been due in large part to the many brave souls who have declared themselves to the world,” she said. “Few people in this country can now say ‘those people’; instead, it is ‘my brother’ or ‘my coworker.’ ”

Sovec said Sam’s announcement sets the stage for more people to come forward about their orientation.

“Coming out is a challenging decision for any LGBT person, as they are faced with the potential of being rejected, bullied, and ostracized by their friends, family, and community,” Sovec said. “Seeing an openly gay man, a well-respected player in a hetero-centric sport, choose to live his life honestly and with integrity has the potential to help both LGBT kids and adults feel more at peace with themselves.”

For more of Sovec’s thoughts on the Sam story, click here.

In other mental health-related news this week:

Facebook Goes Beyond ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ with New Gender Options

The world’s leading social network finally acknowledges that there’s a broad gender identity spectrum, allowing U.S. users to choose from among dozens of new options that include “transgender,” “cisgender,” and “intersex.” Facebook also now allows customization of a user’s preferred pronoun: he/his, she/her, or they/their.

Liposuction, Eating Disorders and Sexual Coercion: High Fashion’s Ugly Secrets

In an interview with Salon, model Sara Ziff talks candidly about the behind-the-scenes problems and abuses permeating the fashion industry.

Computer Software Is Helping Astronauts Battle Depression

Space missions are fraught with danger and couldn’t be more isolating, but the mental health risks that come with being an astronaut are rarely acknowledged. That’s about to change: A team of researchers is developing a computer program to help those in space manage depression and other issues.

‘Biggest Loser’ Winner Says She ‘Maybe’ Took Things Too Far

When Rachel Fredrickson lost nearly 60% of her body weight on NBC’s hit show, earning $250,000, both the contestant and the network were heavily ridiculed in the media. The vitriolic response surprised the 105-pound Fredrickson, who says she was perhaps “too enthusiastic” in her efforts to slim down in preparation for the season finale but insists she does not have an eating disorder.

Early Treatment for Depression May Be Good for the Heart

A study shows that a combination of antidepressants and psychotherapy can help people with depression cut their risk of heart attack and stroke by nearly half.

Investigation Reveals ‘Chaotic’ Handling of Sex Abuse in the Military

An investigation by The Associated Press into alleged sex crimes reported on U.S. military bases in Japan uncovers questionable handling of such cases. Among the findings: offenders who get prison time are in the minority.

Mental Health Statistic of the Week

The global cost of mental health issues in 2010 was estimated at nearly $2.5 trillion, a figure expected to rise to more than $6 trillion by 2030, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness Chicago.

Feel-Good Story of the Week

Full circle: Michael Sam’s announcement was met with much consternation in his home state, but not from Dallas sports anchor Dale Hansen, who thinks a gay man should be the least of the NFL’s worries. Check out Hansen’s much-talked-about segment below.

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  • Manny

    Manny

    February 14th, 2014 at 11:15 AM

    This is a player who deserves to be applauded!

    he is not ashamed of who he is unlike his father kind of acts like he is, and his choice to do this so openly is sure to help a lot of people who are struggling with the very same thing that he has.

  • Andrew

    Andrew

    February 15th, 2014 at 5:15 AM

    Will we ever get past thinking that one’s sexuality is what forms them as a person? This obviously has no effect on what kind of player he is or how well he plays the game of football. If there are other players who are intimidated by this information then that is an issue that they have to work out and not something that Sam should have to answer to or explain. He ios who he is, and we should be proud that here is a voice of a college educated young man coming out and being proud of who he is and what he stands for, no matter the ramifications or what other people may believe. I do find it sad that his father learned about thsi in a text, it would have been nice for them to sit down and talk about this together face to face, but maybe the some didn’t feel like this was something that he could do at this point. Regardless, I hope that the NF: is as accepting of him as it should be, as I hope that the rest of society is ready to be too.

  • erin

    erin

    February 17th, 2014 at 5:01 AM

    does anyone have an opinion of how the macho guys of the NFL will take this news? Will they even care?

  • Aiden

    Aiden

    February 18th, 2014 at 4:01 AM

    Honestly, I don’t think that there are very many young people who even care about this issue anymore. I mean, for them it’s just not that big of a deal and I think that they are kind of mystified that for older generations this is something that they really harp on and think is a big deal. I think that this is a step in the right direction but there is still a whole lot of work that has to be done before there is any kind of true acceptance across society as a whole.

  • Beck

    Beck

    February 20th, 2014 at 8:20 AM

    I read some of the other stories that you had highlighted here and I have to say that this was a great feature to add to the site. All of the stories that were showcased I was interested in and I liked getting more information on the because some I think I had kinda cruised by for the past few weeks. I think that maybe you used to do this at some other point in the past too? Anyway I like it and hope that this little sampling is here to stay!

  • Justin

    Justin

    March 3rd, 2014 at 12:17 PM

    The fact that Michael Sam is likely to fall in the draft tells me we still have a very long way to go as a culture. Not selecting a worthy candidate for a job on the basis of his sexual orientation is the definition of workplace discrimination. It’s disgusting. I hope Sam comes into the NFL and dominates. That would send the ultimate message.

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