UPDATE: Michael Sam’s announcement that he is gay has been met with mostly positive responses. However, after initially saying he was proud of his son, the father of the former University of Missouri star had some critical comments in an interview with The New York Times.
According to the Times, Michael Sam Sr. learned just last week what his son’s teammates at Mizzou had known since August. Sam sent his father a text that said, “Dad, I’m gay.” Sam Sr. said he was eating at a Denny’s restaurant when he received the news, and he told the Times he was so distraught that he had to leave.
“I couldn’t eat no more, so I went to Applebee’s to have drinks,” Sam Sr. told the newspaper. “I don’t want my grandkids raised in that kind of environment.”
Sam Sr. added that he’s “old school,” a “man and a woman kind of guy,” and the idea of a gay player in the NFL, even if it’s his own son, makes him uncomfortable. Sam Sr., who learned the news five days before his son’s announcement, was still struggling with it Sunday, but he did tell the newspaper that he loves his son and he hopes he makes it to the NFL. — NESN
LA MARQUE, Texas — Michael Sam, Sr.’s birthday was last Tuesday, which is when his son, Michael, Jr., gave him the biggest surprise of his life.
”I was shocked,” Michael, Sr., said. “I’m proud of him. He’s my son.”
The rest of the family, for the most part, found out about the same time the rest of the world did. Sunday night, Michael Sr.’s sister, Geraldine, started getting a bunch of phone calls. People were telling her to turn on ESPN. She didn’t know what was going on. Then the New York Times called. Her nephew, Michael, SEC co-defensive player of the year, was about to become the first openly gay player in NFL history.
”I don’t think anyone in my family knew,” she said. “He’s made history. He really has made history and I’m really proud of him.”
Something in the Sam blood, maybe. Geraldine was the first African-American female mayor in Galveston County when in 2009 she was elected a mayor of La Marque, Texas, in a last-minute upset. Turned out Geraldine, a Republican, was popular with the senior citizens, whose ballots came in at the end that year.
La Marque is a town of 14,509 about 50 miles south of Houston. It exists because of the oil industry, but not much of the wealth generated from that has washed up in La Marque, or its adjacent kid brother, Hitchcock (pop. 6,961), where Michael Sam starred at Hitchcock High School before going to Missouri. Both towns are less than 60 percent white and more than 30 percent black, which gives the area almost three times as many African-Americans per capita as the state as a whole.
That diversity hasn’t resulted in harmony. When Geraldine was elected mayor, somebody called the police station to say they planned to kill her. That brought the FBI in town. She’s heard the N-word plenty. Monday, La Marque terminated a fire department captain after he posted an image of Barack Obama with a noose around his neck on his Facebook page.
For Michael Sam, the world has been a place of chaos and heartbreak. His parents have divorced each other twice. His sister drowned at 2 years old reaching for a doll near a pool. One of his brothers was shot to death, two of his brothers are in prison and one of his brothers disappeared one day.
”They never did find him,” Geraldine said. “I just don’t think they looked for him like they do everyone else. With young black children, they always say they ran away.”
But Michael kept his head. At Hitchcock High, he was a two-star recruit, which if you know anything about recruiting tells you what the scouting services thought of him. A five-star is the best. They don’t even give out single stars.
But Missouri found him, and he turned into a first-team All-American, leading a supposedly under-talented Tigers team to a 12-2 record in Missouri’s second season in the Southeastern Conference. Last summer, Sam told his Tiger teammates about his sexuality and, remarkably, that news more or less stayed in-house.
“Can you imagine the trust and the family atmosphere?” Geraldine said. “For them to keep his secret?”
As NFL Draft season starts to boil, every prospect’s personal life gets ransacked by scouts looking for dirty secrets. The rumors were starting to go around and, Geraldine said, it prompted her nephew to take control of his own story by just coming out with it.
Geraldine says she’d like to think her own experience as a mayor provided her nephew with some of the courage it took to do what he did, but she doesn’t know that. She is pretty sure, however, there’s a toughness in the Sam blood.
”That’s the Sam side of the family,” she said. “I’d like to take a little bit of credit for it.”
She says the Sams are prepared for some backlash. Not everybody will be supportive. But Geraldine figures it’s nothing they can’t handle.
“We’re prepared for those differences of opinion,” she said. “I tell people all the time, if anyone has anything to say negative about him, come see me. I have a word for you. That’s my nephew and I do have his back.”