Watch Sam's ESPN film for the ESPYs
ESPN produced a fantastic package on Michael Sam's life. They broadcast it before the openly gay NFL player accepted his ESPY.
It has been confusing to see so many media outlets, including Outsports, run headlines saying that Michael Sam wishes he hadn't come out publicly, or that he regrets doing so. The headlines come from an interview with GQ magazine in which Sam said:
I would have done the same thing I did at Mizzou. Which was to tell my team and my coaches and leave it at that. But since I did tell my team, word got out.... People think the word didn't get out. It did. Or it did and it didn't. They kept it confined within our family. But the recruiters knew, and reporters knew, and they talked to each other, and it got out. If I didn't have the year I did, nobody would have cared. But I did have that year. And a lot of people knew. Someone was gonna ask me, "I heard you told your team a secret...." Well, I was comfortable with who I was, and I wouldn't have denied it. And then I wouldn't have been able to control the story. But I have no regrets.
It seemed pretty clear to me what he was saying: "In an ideal world I could have not felt I had to come out publicly or to anyone if I chose not to." Sam wishes he could have just gone about his business, coming out to his teammates. But he knows that's not the world we live in. He knows he has inspired many people. Sadly, he knows he got what he asked for: To be with a team that would accept him for everything he is (he's not currently with a team). But he knew that eventually the story would have gotten out (for the doubters, ask Kerry Rhodes and Aaron Rodgers if the media will write or speculate about an athlete's sexual orientation).
Instead of risking that, he decided to share his own story his own way.
What he regrets, if anything, is that we live in a gossip-fueled world where celebrities - gay and straight - have to "get ahead of" their own story. But that's our culture today. And within that world of reality, he has no regrets.
Could he have been more clear in the interview? Yes. He was speaking with nuance, which is rarely a good idea when you know your words are going in black-and-white.
Should headlines have jumped to the statement that he wishes he hadn't come out? No. It's clear there was more there. I understand the confusion - knowing Sam and watching how he operates certainly gives me a different perspective on him. In this case I can say with confidence that the headlines are simply incorrect.
Instead of the important nuance in Sam's very words, we got the media putting regretful words in Sam's mouth, as though he regrets coming out because he is not currently with an NFL team. PinkNews lead with the headline, "NFL star Michael Sam: I regret coming out publicly." The sports-deficient editors clearly didn't realize Sam isn't an "NFL star" and didn't read far enough to see what he said about regret. The Washington Times was just as bad with "Michael Sam: I regret coming out 'the way I did.'
All of that despite Sam saying, and I quote, "I HAVE NO REGRETS."
I remember the night before Sam came out publicly. We were all at Howard Bragman's house. There was nervous energy in the room, but none of it rested with Sam. He was relaxed, having a good time, excited for the big day when he finally "lived his truth," as he says.
He wasn't and isn't a man with regret about being himself. Instead, I have found Sam to be a man of grace, who has been far more respectful about the lot the 32 NFL teams have handed him than I could have been in his situation. He has carried himself with deep respect for himself and others. He has exhibited so many qualities NFL teams say they want in their athletes. Instead he is off a roster - again, in historic fashion. The whole time he has stayed quiet about what must be a deepening discontent with the nation's most powerful sports league.
Sadly these headlines will give even more ammunition to the LGBT professional athletes too scared to come out. That may be the saddest piece of this whole misunderstanding.
Because of our culture's obsession with the negative and with gossip (and, in truth, because of the holiday), the real story here will get a tiny fraction of the attention and "shares" received by the "Michael Sam regrets" pieces.
With all of this said, if Sam had regretted coming out or wish he hadn't, you could understand why he might feel a hint of it (which, again, he told the interviewer he doesn't). Sam is in unique territory, the only player in years in his position who was not with a team at this point in the season. He isn't on an NFL roster right now because he came out as gay and because NFL team front offices don't want him there. It's a disgusting commentary on the true state of the decision makers on NFL teams that none of them have signed Sam this late in the season.