Ole Miss Athletic Directer Ross Bjork and Head Football Coach Hugh Freeze are among football notables around the country who have responded positively to the news that NFL-bound All-American Missouri defensive end Michael Sam is openly gay.
Sam came out publicly during an interview with ESPN Sunday, although he says he shared his sexual orientation with his Missouri teammates last season.
During the ESPN piece, Sam said, “I’m Michael Sam, I’m a college graduate, an African American and I am gay.”
NFL and SEC football officials around the country have responded to Sam’s declaration with empathy and welcoming gestures. The NFL released a statement saying that “Any player with the ability and determination can succeed in the NFL.”
NFL Hall-of-Famer Deion Sanders said, “Michael Sam is not the first gay man to play in the NFL, just the first to come out. Let’s treat him like a family member.”
Closer to home, Ole Miss Head Football Coach Freeze was quoted in the Clarion Ledger as acknowledging he has coached at least two players in the past who he knew to be gay. Coach Freeze disclosed no names, adding, “Everyone is entitled to their own privacy unless they want it to be public.” Coach Freeze told the Ledger, “I guarantee in both cases they knew the coaching staff loved them and respected them.”
Respect became an issue of heated controversy on the Ole Miss campus last October when audience members were accused of being insensitive to the subject matter of the theatrical production The Laramie Project. The show deals with the brutal murder of a gay character and allegations were made that laughter and a racial slur were used in one performance by someone in the crowd at the show.
An official investigation by the University later cleared Ole Miss athletes and, specifically, freshman members of the football team, but the exact facts of the incident could not be fully determined.
This past Sunday night a Mississippi State football player Rufus Warren tweeted “Props” to Sam, but also said football “is a man sport and being gay is not a man.” Warren later deleted the tweets and apologized publicly.
In the Ledger story, Ole Miss Athletic Director Bjork said, “To say that we are ready? We don’t know. We haven’t had anybody approach us. But I feel confident in who we are as coaches and as administrators and as a campus. We would want someone to feel welcome and free, and to be who they are.”
Other former NFL players have admitted to being gay, but Sam will be the first high-profile active player to publicly acknowledge his homosexuality. NFL draft experts say the Tiger defensive end and sack leader would have been a mid-round pick before his announcement. Now there is disagreement if his draft value will be affected by the news. Most experts say Sam’s future will depend largely on his performance in the upcoming NFL combines.
Bjork said, in the Ledger interview, that the Ole Miss Athletic Department continues to stress a message of inclusiveness, not treating people differently because of race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
“We’re going to treat them as a human being first and foremost,” Bjork said. “That’s the first thing we would do in handling it, if it comes to light. We want our place to be an environment where everybody is treated equally, and with respect and dignity.”
What if a current Ole Miss player wanted to declare his homosexuality?
Coach Freeze said he would try to ensure that person was treated respectfully. “If you can play, you can play,” he told the Ledger.
Here is the link for the Clarion Ledger article: https://www.clarionledger.com/
Andy Knef is the editor of HottyToddy.com Andy can be reached at Andy.Knef@HottyToddy.com