It may be easier for public figures to reveal their sexual orientation these days, but much depends on the environment. The world of professional sports is now closely watching what happens with University of Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam, who recently revealed he is gay.
Sam, 24, is up for the National Football League draft. If chosen by a major team, he will be the NFL’s first, and so far only, openly gay player. Sam came out ahead of the draft because, he said, rumors had been circulating. “I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” he told the New York Times and ESPN. “I just want to own my truth.”
His teammates were reported as being entirely supportive, as was the university. The NFL’s statement said, “We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage… We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.” Others associated with football, including players, have been less complementary, saying homosexuality has no place in the locker room. In a time when coming out is easier but not always accepted, one can only make a personal choice to, as Sam said, own one’s truth, and then choose how to tell it.
THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Michael Sam. A football player at the top of his game has played his hand well.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Turn a challenge into an opportunity. While Michael Sam may have been forced to reveal his sexual orientation due to rumors, he took charge of the situation by turning his media revelation into a platform. “I don’t think I should be defined as Michael Sam, the gay athlete, or the gay football player,” he said in the New York Times video. “I want to be a football player.” If he keeps playing as well as he has, his actions may speak louder than any words about whether sexual orientation matters.