Thursday 22 March 2018

First openly gay American footballer is hired by NFL

Star university player Michael Sam has been selected by the St Louis Rams. Reuters/Brian Spurlock
Star university player Michael Sam has been selected by the St Louis Rams. Reuters/Brian Spurlock
Michael Sam has been drafted by The St. Louis Rams to become the first openly gay player in the NFL

Rosa Prince

AN American footballer has shattered one of the final taboos in the macho world of American sport after becoming the National Football League's first openly gay player.

Michael Sam celebrated by kissing his boyfriend on live television after being signed to the NFL's St Louis Rams on Saturday night. He was congratulated on the achievement by President Barack Obama.

Mr Sam was signed by the Missouri-based team late on the last day of the 2014 NFL Draft, the three-day event watched by millions of Americans which sees promising college stars picked to join top-tier professional teams.

Despite being named an All-American player at college level, meaning he was considered the best in his position, Mr Sam was the 249th – ninth from last – player to be drafted, leading many to fear as the hours ticked by that despite his obvious skill he was being overlooked due to his sexuality.

But there was an outpouring of relief when Mr Sam was finally selected on Saturday evening. ESPN, the US sports channel which covers the draft, showed rapturous scenes at a Los Angeles gay bar as Mr Sam celebrated his pick by humourously pushing a cake into the face of his boyfriend, Vito Cammisano, before kissing him on the lips.

Accusations of homophobia have long plagued American sport, with basketball player Jason Collins becoming the first openly gay NBA player only this year.

President Obama and Samantha Power, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, were among those who congratulated the 24-year-old. In a statement issued by the White House, Mr Obama said: "From the playing field to the corporate boardroom, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Americans prove every day that you should be judged by what you do and not who you are." He also congratulated the NFL and the St Louis Rams.

But there were also homophobic responses to Mr Sam's selection, with some Rams fans vowing to boycott games. Don Jones, a Miami Dolphins player, tweeted: "Horrible," a post which was removed soon afterwards. He was reprimanded by his team's head coach. Several Rams players took to Twitter to welcome Mr Sam, however. From a poor family in Texas – he is one of eight children, of which three are dead and two in prison – Mr Sam had been a star player at the University of Missouri, and was ranked one of the top defensive ends in the country.

But after he came out as gay in February, he scored relatively poorly at the "combine", a scouting event where young prospects are put through their paces. Some observers put this down to the pressure of the attention Mr Sam faced in the wake of his announcement. Although he had not been expected to be picked early in the draft process, it would have been contrary to his still-impressive ranking if he had been left out altogether.

While it is usual for the draft process to be relayed to American television viewers, Mr Sam's selection had an added dimension of drama. Jeff Fisher, the Rams' coach, relayed the good news in a telephone call which was screened live, telling him: "You are a Ram. The wait is finally over." The 6ft 2in player then broke down in tears in the arms of Mr Cammisano. Afterwards he tweeted: "Thank you to the St Louis Rams and the whole city of St Louis. I'm using every [ounce] of this to achieve greatness!!"

Mr Fisher made little of his new player's sexuality, telling the NFL Network: "He's a good football player. We got a good football player." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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