In the last decade, as the public has become more tolerant of homosexuality, gay athletes have found the courage to come out publicly. Despite the widely held beliefs of lifelong football fans, gay NFL players have always been among us. Openly gay NFL players, however, have yet to reveal themselves.


An NFL prospect coming out weeks before the NFL Draft seemed even more improbable than a current player coming out. But in early 2014, University of Missouri prospect Michael Sam stepped out of the shadows and onto a bright, glowering national stage. Sam spoke to ESPN’s Outside the Lines and admitted to being gay, causing a media storm in the world of sports.


The public’s response to Sam’s announcement was mostly positive, with former and current NFL players being among his biggest supporters. Naturally, there were those who weren’t receptive of the news. Twitter and Facebook rants calling Sam every manner of homophobic slur spread across the web, but Sam wisely refused to engage in the hate-filled antics of the shamelessly ignorant.


Whether or not Sam’s sexual orientation had anything to do with his being cut from both the St. Louis Rams and the Dallas Cowboys is conjecture. Long before his announcement, analysts had doubts about Sam’s ability to succeed in the NFL, based on his size alone. During his quest to earn a spot on an NFL roster, Sam’s planned documentary on the OWN Network had to be postponed. Now that Sam is out of the league, possibly forever, the documentary has been released.


Besides his claim that he has been contacted by several current gay NFL players, Sam made no revelations in the documentary. Instead, the documentary is a reminder of one of the bravest public relations moments of 2014. Actors come out. Musicians come out. Football players do not. Sam made the decision to come out despite knowing it could end the career that had yet to begin. That same decision ended many bright careers before him, and it will end many more to come. Sam was undoubtedly urged to keep his sexual orientation private to save his career, but he went against that advice and followed his own path, paving the way for those that will follow in his footsteps.


Did you watch the Michael Sam documentary? What are your thoughts about his future? Leave your insights in the comments section, or tweet me @nataliepetitto.