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Mizzou's Greatest, #46: Michael Sam wins All-American honors, comes out

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Sports and community and student body and culture can sometimes converge. And it can be beautiful.

Bill Carter

The process of updating the Greatest list for 2013-14 is almost complete. Today, we talk about a moment (well, a series of moments) as purely significant as almost any on the list.

First, an updated list:

47-48. A screenshot and a magazine cover
49-50. Mizzou Basketball 1994 and Mizzou-Nebraska
51. John Kadlec
52-53. Mizzou Basketball 2008-09 and a picture
54. Renee Kelly
55. 1968 Gator Bowl
56. Jon Sundvold
57-58. Mizzou-Nebraska 2003 and the video
59. Brian Smith
60. Kellen Winslow
61-62. Devin West and Harry Ice vs. Kansas
63-64. Ricky Frazier and Mizzou Basketball 1981-82
65. Tony Temple vs. Arkansas
66. Max Scherzer
67. 2013 Mizzou Volleyball
68. Lindsey Hunter
69. "Did you see him?"
70. 2014 Cotton Bowl

The 2013 Missouri football season was already over. Michael Sam had already won All-American honors. The story had been told. And about a month after Mizzou's Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma State, everything we had seen and loved that fall took on greater significance when we found out that, before the season had even begun, Sam, Mizzou's first consensus All-American since the 1960s, had told his teammates he's gay.

In terms of a coming-out scenario, that's pretty much perfect. Might it affect his performance? Nope! All-American. Might it affect team chemistry? Nope! Top-5 finish. Granted, all of these same "mights" came up in the run-up to the NFL Draft, but blame the NFL for that. Mizzou proved itself in a way that sports alone cannot allow you to do. It was a proud moment, and 20, or 30, or 50 years from now, it might have become an even prouder moment.

NFL prospect Michael Sam comes out as gay

"Once I became official to my teammates, I knew who I was," Sam told John Branch of the New York Times. "I knew that I was gay. And I knew that I was Michael Sam, who's a Mizzou football player who happens to be gay. I was so proud of myself and I just didn't care who knew. If someone on the street would have asked me, ‘Hey, Mike, I heard you were gay. Is that true?' I would have said yes.

"But no one asked. I guess they don't want to ask a 6-3, 260-pound defensive lineman if he was gay or not."

In coming out now, Sam said he wanted him being gay to be known to the fans and front office of any team that drafted him. It would also be less of a distraction to come out in February as opposed to after the draft, during summer training camp or during the season, his agents Joe Barkett and Cameron Weiss said.

"I want to own my truth," Sam told the Times.

Asked if he was nervous about the step he is taking, Sam told people at a Saturday night dinner party at the Los Angeles home of publicist Howard Bragman: "You all are the ones who are nervous. I’m excited."

Michael Sam's announcement shines an incredibly positive light on Mizzou

2. A college football team has 85 scholarship players, a hefty number of walk-ons, and a giant coaching and support staff. The diversity of political and religious beliefs on a football team spans from one extreme to another. The Missouri football team and all of its divergent pieces rallied around Michael Sam, played beside him, showered with him, and went to battle with him every Saturday last fall. Most of us had no idea about Sam's sexuality; all we knew was that this team had better chemistry than just about any in Missouri's history.

Elvis Fisher (tweet above) is, per his Twitter exploits, a pretty hardcore Republican. I'm almost positive Gary Pinkel is, too. (Hell, so is SI's Andy Staples, for that matter. See this and this tweet for why I bring that up.) Rural or urban, Republican or Democrat, Christian or non, the team embraced Michael Sam. Our community, and the Mizzou community as a whole, has no excuse for not doing the same.

(And by the way, a tweet from Eric Waters last night shows us that there's nothing easy about any of this. There's no such thing as 100% unity. But whatever struggles people were going through behind the scenes, the chemistry this team showed publicly, both on the field and last night, was an achievement.)

Michael Sam is a True Son, one of the greatest in the history of Missouri Football, and last night he quite possibly did more good for himself, the Missouri program, and the LGBT community than he ever did on the football field. This is a very good day to be a Missouri fan and/or alum, and I really, really hope that we can all see that no matter our political religious beliefs. If the team can, we can. One day announcements like this won't be a big deal; today, it is a huge deal.

A FEW MORE THINGS ON MICHAEL SAM

1. Football players embraced him. The great bullies of every high school drama, the ones who can literally be played as a character called "Ogre" without pause, and even went along to gay bars with him. We'd really, really like to have the transcripts of the discussions on these trips, because they would be hilarious in the most awkward and kind way, and also probably mention the sometimes insane drink specials at college gay clubs. ("Dude, I'm uncomfortable, but FAT TIRE FOR TWO BUCKS ON DRAFT AND IS THIS RIHANNA? I LOVE RIHANNA. YOU LOVE RIHANNA. EVERYONE LOVES RIHANNA!!!")

2. That for Michael Sam, Columbia was a place where he could discover who he was. Mizzou is disputed territory at best, so we can't speak to it from experience. But in the rest of the SEC small university towns like Athens, Gainesville, Tuscaloosa, and yes, even Oxford were places where our gay friends could come out, be themselves, and understand for the first time that they were part of a community, and were going to be alright. It's a nice sideline for those who follow college sports to know that they get to live in these places for at least a chunk of the year, and that they continue to be places where that can happen.

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