The news that a top NFL prospect has come out as gay in advance of the draft is electrifying. The support for Sam among NFL players is awesome. At first, there was a conspicuous silence among NFL owners, but Giants owner Steve Tisch and Dolphins owner Dolphins owner Stephen Ross have stepped up. Perhaps more will follow.
Here's an excerpt from an open letter to Michael Sam from Dave Kopay, a former NFL player who came out as gay after he retired.
Not only am I excited for you, I am excited for the NFL. I know the SEC is thanking its lucky stars that a player like you has succeeded and developed, and it would be a significant thing for the entire sports world and for you to continue on your path in the National Football League. But know that now that you are "publicly out" as a gay man you must focus on doing your job and don't let any naysayers bring you down. You are no wallflower and you can handle whatever crap comes your way. You will bring it like you never have before. For a moment, let's just remember how far we have all come.
When I first attended college in 1960, the University of Missouri was only three years into having its first black football player. It was a school where the Confederate flag was still flown for touchdowns. Many SEC schools were still years behind accepting black players. "No Negroes allowed," they said. This got my blood boiling and I can only imagine how so many of my teammates -- both black and white -- at the University of Washington reacted on seeing those words.
I entered college as a high school three-sport letterman, somewhat of a gifted athlete compared to most high school players, and got by on my natural athletic ability. Unlike you, I was not a naturally "tough" guy. I certainly had no idea the toughness it would take to really play on a team that had just won two Rose Bowls. I started my sophomore year and, as I had pledged a fraternity, got the attention of a particular pledge brother, Ray, who would become the love of my life. But in those days I was part of the invisible world. We could never talk about our love for each other let alone how we made love. As a junior, after I had not played to the standards of toughness my coaches required, I got benched. I pledged that I would rise back to the top and I did, by playing 48 minutes a game, making some league honors and getting elected co-captain of our Rose Bowl team as a senior. Ray became a Marine Captain and was killed in Vietnam. We could never talk about anything dealing with our love for each other, but at least for a moment I was to know love and what a wondrous thing it is.
I tell you this to alert to the fact that there are those out there that will get in your way to succeed or to love as you see fit. I was in Green Bay in 1972 when I got the news of Ray's death. I told coach Dan Devine that I had a friend killed in Vietnam and that I wanted to go to his funeral in Seattle. He strongly objected. We normally had Mondays off, with a light practice on Tuesday and I told him I must go, and I would be back for practice from Seattle either Tuesday or Wednesday. I couldn't believe he would object me going to honor a dear friend who had just given his life for his country. I went to Ray's funeral and I was back for practice. I was cut from the squad the next year.