Michael Sam, who made history this year when he became the first openly gay athlete to be drafted into the NFL, sports a tux, a football and a big smile on the latest cover of GQ magazine, published one month after he was released from the Dallas Cowboys.
In May, the 24-year-old was picked by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round of the draft. The team released him two months later. In September, he was chosen to join the Dallas Cowboys. He played several games with its practice squad before he was cut from the roster on Oct. 21. He may end up being signed by another team.
Sam is one of six people featured on the cover of GQ's December 2014 "Men of the Year" Issue (The other five are Chris Pratt, The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent actors Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, Steve Carell and comic Dave Chappelle).
GQ features an interview with Sam that was published online Friday. The magazine said the story went to press around the same time the Cowboys released him. Sam, who was born the seventh out of eight siblings and is his parents' youngest son, talks about his decision to come out publicly and about his difficult childhood in Texas, which has been reported in the press before, including his struggles with who he called his "evil" brothers.
GQ reported that his father left when he was 5 and that when Sam was a kid, he once lived with his mother in a car. Two of his siblings died—his eldest sister drowned at age 2 and one of his brothers was shot dead at age 15 while trying to break into a home, The New York Times reported. Another left home in 1998 and was declared missing; the family believes he is dead, the outlet said.
A third brother is in prison, while a fourth has been in and out of jail, GQ said. The New York Times reported that two of his brothers are in prison.
Sam told GQ he "got beat up a lot" when he was younger. His brothers have not commented.
"We called the cops on my brothers so many times I can't even count," he said. "Our house was…strangers showing up, coming in. When I was a kid, I had no idea what they were doing. Now I know. My brothers were evil people. I don't have a relationship with them now. They've both written me letters from prison. People tell me I need to forgive. I will learn to forgive them. I will love them from a distance, just like I love my dad from a distance."
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When Sam, then a star football player at the University of Missouri, came out as gay to his college team mates and coaches in August 2013.
"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," Sam told GQ. "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."
Sam revealed his sexual orientation to the world via a New York Times on-camera interview that was posted in February. During the Rams' announcement of drafting Sam, live, emotional footage of him kissing his boyfriend was shown, sparking a slew of supportive comments as well as mean reactions.
In August, days before he was cut from the team, ESPN aired a live TV report about his shower etiquette, as quoted by a fellow player. It drew controversy and later, an apology from the channel.
After he was cut from the Rams, the team's coach told reporters Sam "has shown that he has the ability to play in this league. He just was not a fit here."
Two days before the Cowboys released him, when asked about the attention over the football player's sexual orientation, team owner Jerry Jones told USA Today, "It's a dead issue. A dead issue."
His father did not react positively to his son's news, which he received via a text message from the football player while sitting at a Denny's to celebrate his birthday, a week before the interview was posted, The New York Times reported.
"I couldn't eat no more, so I went to Applebee's to have drinks," Michael Sam Sr. told the newspaper. "I don't want my grandkids raised in that kind of environment. I'm old school. I'm a man-and-a-woman type of guy."
Sam told GQ he considered "Mizzou" to be his "real family."
"Football was a sense of home," he said. "A home I never had."
Sam also told GQ he was not a Cowboys fan when he was growing up.
"I actually hated the Cowboys because my dad liked them," he said.
Brooklyn Nets player Jason Collins, 35, has so far been the only openly gay athlete to play for one of the four major U.S. sports leagues. He retired from the NBA on Wednesday after a 13-year career.
"There are still no publicly gay players in the NFL, NHL or Major League Baseball," he told Sports Illustrated. "Believe me: They exist. Every pro sport has them. I know some of them personally."
"When we get to the point where a gay pro athlete is no longer forced to live in fear that he'll be shunned by teammates or outed by tabloids, when we get to the point where he plays while his significant other waits in the family room, when we get to the point where he's not compelled to hide his true self and is able to live an authentic life, then coming out won't be such a big deal," he said. "But we're not there yet."
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