In the case of Sam, the announcement came as no surprise to his teammates; Sam came out to them in the locker room months before they read about it in the New York Times. In fact, it seems like just about everyone at Mizzou, including the local press, knew Sam was gay long before it made national headlines.

"We've seen athletes on a professional level sort of grow up. they can't have anti-gay rhetoric be part of their public speech. It's not gonna fly anymore."

"I don't think anyone was going to ask him about it, because there really wasn't a point," says Jack Witthaus, assistant sports editor for The Maneater, Mizzou's student-run newspaper.

After Sam did come out nationally, the campus community mobilized to support him. When the Westboro Baptist Church came to Mizzou to protest Sam in February, hundreds of people showed up to counter-protest, including some of Sam's teammates.

Athletes party at Howard Bragman's house the night before Sam's big announcement. From left: Wade Davis, David Kopay, Michael Sam, Chris Kluwe, Billy Bean, Brendon Ayanbadejo.
Brian Spurlock/USA Today Sports
Athletes party at Howard Bragman's house the night before Sam's big announcement. From left: Wade Davis, David Kopay, Michael Sam, Chris Kluwe, Billy Bean, Brendon Ayanbadejo.
Former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe continues to fight for LGBT rights in sports, even though his own career is finished.
Andy Mannix
Former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe continues to fight for LGBT rights in sports, even though his own career is finished.

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"The students, I think, overwhelmingly supported him," says Witthaus. "I didn't hear a single negative thing about Michael Sam."

Cyd Zeigler of Outsports believes the mainstream sports media has over sensationalized the belief that a gay player would be a distraction from the sport. As evidence, he points to Jason Collins. Though Collins' story made for international headlines, the media circus died down significantly after only a few days of the Nets signing him. Soon reporters at post-game press conferences were more interested in asking Collins about that evening's basketball game than they were in having him rehash his role in the history of the NBA.

"For years, the media has created a bunch of boogeymen for out gay athletes," says Zeigler. "At times, it's been the players are going to reject that person. And after all the interviews we at Outsports have done with athletes, that's just not the case."

That's not to say homophobia has disappeared entirely or that if Sam does make the NFL he's going to be accepted by everyone in the locker room. There is still plenty of evidence to the contrary, such as the comments from San Francisco 49er cornerback Chris Culliver leading up to the 2013 Super Bowl: "Ain't got no gay people on the team. They gotta get up outta here if they do. Can't be with that sweet stuff."

While many came out to support Jason Collins after his announcement — including Bill Clinton, Michelle Obama and Kobe Bryant — Collins told the New York Daily News that at least one "knucklehead" taunted him in the locker room for his sexuality.

Sam has already received criticism, most notably from anonymous NFL executives, who told Sports Illustrated that the NFL is still too much of a "man-to-man's game" for a gay player and that someone like Sam would "chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room."

"I just wish you guys would see me as Michael Sam the football player," Sam told reporters at the combine in February, "instead of Michael Sam the gay football player."

Sitting on a park bench in the affluent ocean town of Huntington Beach, just a few miles from where he grew up, Chris Kluwe appears in his element on this sunny March afternoon — probably more so than he ever could in wintry Minnesota. His long hair is pulled into a ponytail, and, as is Kluwe's custom, he's dressed casually in basketball shorts and flip-flops. His shirt reads "Nice Vibe," which is an apt description of the punter's demeanor. A landscape of gated communities and Southern California-style mansions surrounds him for miles.

By his own admission, the 32-year-old is finished with professional football. Asked if he has plans for another career, he's characteristically nonchalant. "Not really," he says. "Just kind of hanging out. I think I'll continue writing because I enjoy doing it. And see where life takes me."

Exactly what happened between Kluwe and the Vikings may never be entirely known. In interviews with Riverfront Times and in an open letter to Deadspin, Kluwe says he first began feeling the tension mounting between himself and the Vikings in fall 2012, when head coach Leslie Frazier called Kluwe into his office and asked him to stop speaking out against Minnesota's anti-gay-marriage amendment. Frazier didn't take issue particularly with what he was saying, says Kluwe, just that he was making headlines talking about a subject other than football. Despite the warning from his boss, Kluwe decided to continue his campaign for gay rights.

"I figured it would blow over after the season was over," he says.

Around this time, Kluwe alleges, special-teams coach Mike Priefer started making anti-gay comments during practice. At first, Kluwe wasn't sure if Priefer was being hateful or just making distasteful jokes. After the comment about going nuclear on an island of gays, Kluwe decided it was the former.

He says he didn't tell any of his superiors about the remarks at the time because he didn't believe he could trust Frazier.

In spring 2013, the Vikings drafted UCLA punter Jeff Locke in the fifth round, and Kluwe knew his time in Minnesota was over. The Vikings dropped Kluwe from the team before the upcoming season, issuing a statement thanking Kluwe for his years with the Vikings. But many of Kluwe's fans, including Minnesota governor Mark Dayton, questioned whether his activism may have contributed to his dismissal. At the time, Kluwe said he didn't know if this played into the Vikings decision to cut him. "I'm not in those meetings, so I don't know what's said in there."

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@RiverfrontTimes only matters how he performs on the field; his sexual preference doesn't matter & shouldn't have to be publicly known

Jeff Powell
Jeff Powell

I look forward to the day he is called an athlete. Does he have a gay meal or gay cook or gay? Must we put labels on everyone?


Is "Rise of the Gay Athlete" supposed to be a pun????

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