Photos by Erik Hall
Missouri baseball lost to Southern Mississippi 2-1 on March 9, 2014, at Taylor Stadium.
Photos by Erik Hall
Missouri baseball lost to Southern Mississippi 2-1 on March 9, 2014, at Taylor Stadium.
(Photos by Erik Hall)
By Erik Hall
COLUMBIA — The Missouri baseball team clinched its first series win of the season Saturday.
Missouri beat Southern Mississippi 6-4 in the second game of the three-game series. Missouri won Friday’s series opener 4-1.
“Winning series, it’s awesome,” Missouri center fielder Jake Ring said. “It’s what’s expected. We expect noting less than to just win a series like this, ’cause we definitely have the talent.”
Ring batted 1-for-4 with a run and a stolen base Saturday. Ring stole home on a double steal in the eighth inning.
Missouri designated hitter Eric Anderson and first baseman Kendall Keeton both had multiple hits for the Tigers. Anderson went 2-for-5 with one run scored, and Keeton batted 2-for-4 with two runs.
Starting pitcher John Miles earned the win on the mound. The junior right-hander improved to 2-0 after throwing 5 1/3 innings allowing four runs, two earned runs and five hits with six strikeouts and one walk.
The Missouri offense aided Miles early with three first-inning runs and two more in the second. The runs gave Missouri an 5-0 lead.
“It just gives us confidence. That’s the biggest thing,” Miles said of the team’s early offense. “If you have confidence, you can win. That’s the bottom line. If you don’t have confidence, you’re never going to win. No matter how good you are if you never have confidence, you’re never going to win. If you’re horrible and you have confidence, you still got a chance to win.”
Keaton Steele earned the save Saturday — his fourth of the season. A.J. Glasshof took the loss for Southern Mississippi.
Missouri improves to 6-6 overall entering Sunday’s series finale at noon. Southern Mississippi is now 6-9 this year.
“Very seldom do you have an opportunity to sweep somebody,” Missouri coach Tim Jamieson said. “You want to make sure you give it your greatest, best effort. We are at .500 now. We get over .500 if we win tomorrow. And that’s another thing you want to be able to do.
“If we win tomorrow, it will be because we outplayed Southern Mississippi. If we lose tomorrow, it will be because we weren’t ready.”
By Erik Hall
COLUMBIA — Missouri right-hander Brett Graves made his first career Friday-night start in his team’s home opener against Southern Mississippi.
He earned the win with eight strikeouts allowing one run and five hits in eight innings.
Missouri second baseman Josh Lester helped the Tigers earn their first win of the season at Taylor Stadium.
Lester went 2-for-4 with the game’s first hit and first run. He added a seventh-inning RBI for insurance in the Tigers’ 4-1 victory.
It was the first time a crowd as large as Friday’s 1,028 attendees saw a Missouri home opener, since at least 1997.
“That’s the most people we’ve played in front of all year,” Missouri designated hitter Eric Anderson said. “I think the excitement level was up and our guys were ready. When you see people in the seats, your intensity is there and your focus is there. It’s a good feeling.”
Missouri used the energy of its home debut and scored two runs in the opening inning.
Lester batted second in the bottom of the first. His blooper single over the shortstop started a string of four consecutive Tigers to reach base. Lester scored on catcher Dylan Kelly’s single for Missouri’s first run, and first baseman Kendall Keeton came home when third baseman Zach Lavy put the ball in play.
Missouri claimed a 2-0 lead early in the year’s first 60-degree day in Columbia.
“Sometimes if we don’t score early, we kind of try a little too hard to score. But scoring two runs in the first inning kind of kept us relaxed,” said Lester, a sophomore. “We knew Brett was going to go out there and throw well.”
Graves allowed no hits the first inning, but he struggled some to start the second inning. He allowed one run on two hits, which cut Missouri’s lead to 2-1.
But a popout to Lester ended the second inning with two men on base.
Lester catching the popup was the first of eight consecutive batters Graves retired. Graves retired 13 of the 15 batters he faced from the final out of the second inning through end of the sixth inning.
“I was using my curveball pretty effectively,” Graves said. “The fastball felt pretty good once we got to the later innings. I didn’t feel like the control was as good in the early innings as it was the later innings.”
He struck out six batters in that stretch of 13 outs, and the defense took care of the rest.
“If I do fall behind a hitter, I know I can just throw the ball in there and let them hit. I don’t have to worry too much,” Graves said of Missouri’s defense Friday. “So the defense plays great, it helps that confidence.”
Missouri freshman Ryan Howard was a Taylor Stadium rookie entering Friday’s game. He committed the Tigers’ only error Friday, which came in the top of the first inning.
“I talked to him right after. I told him to just kind of relax,” Graves said. “All of us have been there before and knows what that feels like to have to come out here to play your first game, especially as a freshman on Friday night. I just told him, ‘You’re there for a reason. You’re a stud. You’ll make the next one. I know you will.’”
That “next one” came in the fifth inning. He fielded back-to-back grounders to end the Bulldogs’ at-bat. Howard then turned a double play to end the seventh inning.
Missouri’s offense followed double play that ended the top of the seventh with a two-run bottom of the inning.
Center fielder Jake Ring walked then Anderson and Lester hit back-to-back doubles. Missouri’s lead grew to 4-1.
“It was fun,” Lester said of the seventh inning. “It is fun to play. It’s fun when you’re scoring runs, and winning ballgames is always fun.”
Graves earned the win and is now 2-1. Keaton Steele faced five batters in the ninth to earn the save. The loss went to Southern Mississippi right-hander Conor Fisk, who threw 6 2/3 inning and allowed four earned runs and five hits while striking out eight.
Missouri’s win improves the Tigers to 5-6 overall while Southern Mississippi fell to 6-8. The teams are scheduled to play a 2 p.m. game Saturday and a game at noon Sunday.
The Tigers will try to make the encore as good as opening night.
How competitive is Greg DeStephen? Hear his former Missouri teammate Dante Jones give a couple examples in an interview with Erik Hall. (1:13)
This weekend, The Associated Press picked up the story on Missouri diver Greg DeStephen. I thought I would add some audio anecdotes here that I was not able to use in the original Missourian story. My favorite anecdote that I did not use was about a cupcake fight Greg had with his roommate Keely Brooks, but Dante’s comments seem more pertinent.
Here are the links I was able to find online to publications that picked up the DeStephen story. They are:
Photo by Erik Hall
Missouri’s baseball coaches experimented with moving Dillon Everett, shown at Taylor Stadium in Columbia, Mo., on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, from the infield to the outfield this season. But an injury to second baseman Brett Peel caused Everett to return to the infield before the end of the season’s second game.
By Erik Hall
Dillon Everett started 112 games as an infielder for the Missouri baseball team entering his senior year. This year, Missouri coach Tim Jamieson asked Everett to try something new — move to the outfield. KBIA’s Erik Hall tells us how Everett handled the transition during Missouri’s opening weekend. Length: 2:11.
By Erik Hall
Michael Sam’s announcement Sunday that he is gay has been a huge story this week. It’s definitely the biggest story I have ever covered with Deron Williams breaking his jaw a distance second.
I was interviewed by four media outlets Monday. One of them was a live interview with Sports Talk 1080 in Orlando. Click here to hear that interview.
There were three stories that mentioned me in their coverage of Sam. There was Greg Bowers’ column in the Missourian.
Teddy Mitrosilis of Fox Sports did an interview with Bowers for Tuesday, Feb. 11, that mentioned me. Yahoo’s Pat Forde did a column for Friday, Feb. 14, that looked at several media angles of the Sam story, and it included several references to me.
Joan Niesen of Sports Illustrated had a story Monday that talks about the Missourian having an interview with Sam.
The Sam coverage was nice, but my favorite story of the week was my story on Missouri All-American diver Greg DeStephen. He was Missouri’s first openly gay athlete, and the only one to come out while an active athlete.
Both OutSports.com and Queerty.com linked to the story. The OutSports reference gave me quite a bit of praise for the story. The excerpts Queerty chose focus on DeStephen’s struggles, but the website also raided DeStephen’s Facebook for photos to objectify him.
Greg DeStephen prepares for a dive at the Big 12 Swimming and Diving Championships at the Mizzou Aquatic Center on Feb. 25, 2009. (Photo by Phil Franzone)
I happened to see a tweet tonight from Chris Cotillo that said, “Catcher Chris Robinson has retired. 29-year old appeared in 8 games for the #Padres in 2013.”
My first reaction was that it can’t be the Chris Robinson that I covered at Illinois in 2004 & 2005 can it? But then I thought that 29 years old would be about right. I googled: Chris Robinson Padres.
His mug shot popped up. It was him.
I hadn’t heard much about Chris since he left the Cubs organization after 2011. I’m real disappointed I didn’t know he made it to the big leagues with the Padres this year. I would have loved to watch Chris play a Major League game.
He is among the nicest guys I ever covered. He always smiled. He always had time to talk.
My first column at the LaSalle NewsTribune was going to a Peoria Chiefs game to talk to Chris and talk about starting our careers. I don’t remember anything about the column, but I remember how it was talking to Chris. It was pleasant as always even though this time he wasn’t wearing Illini gear.
I found his Twitter account (@Robbie_30) tonight. He’s got 2 kids and beautiful wife. It’s their gain that Chris is retiring, but it’s a loss for baseball. But I’m glad he got those 8 games with the Padres.
A player as good as him earned that. A person as nice as him deserves that.
COLUMBIA — Restaurant staff cooked enchilada beef on the grill. The capacity of El Rancho increased as college students pushed their way through the door for a spot in line after the bars closed. Greg DeStephen waited with his boyfriend to get food.
He heard some commotion. A man shouted, “Faggot!”
It was directed at DeStephen.
Sounds of sizzling chicken, squeaking Styrofoam boxes and spatulas banging on the grill were pierced by that six-letter word. The rest of the man’s words are gone from DeStephen’s memory, but not that “F” word.
“I’ve only ever really been called that mean-heartedly to my face one time,” DeStephen says. “It wasn’t my favorite thing.”
The man thought he could pigeonhole DeStephen with a pejorative because DeStephen was with another man.
But DeStephen does not fit a stereotype. He was raised in Ohio in a sports fanatic family. He dealt with being outed as gay, having hostile teammates and diving with a broken back his freshman year, but none of it stopped him from becoming a four-time All-American diver at Missouri.
He is also the only Missouri athlete to publicly say he is gay while actively competing.
“Greg’s a very great representative of diving and the gay community,” says openly gay Florida State diving coach Patrick Jeffrey, who dove for the U.S. at the 1988 and 1996 Olympics. “He’s just a very good kid. He was a hard worker. He was a great athlete.”
DeStephen qualified for the NCAA Championship meet three of his four years at Missouri. He earned All-Big 12 honors a dozen times from 2007 to 2010. He made the U.S. national team in 2010 for the Canada Cup.
But after his first semester at Missouri, he felt ready to leave. He considered transferring to his hometown Ohio State Buckeyes.
“He would come and talk to me about it,” says Aimee Hukill, a member of the women’s swim team from 2005 to 2009. “He would be like, ‘I need to leave Missouri. I don’t want to be here.’”
Hukill and DeStephen shared a love for Dixie Cream Donuts, songs from “Taylor Swift” and watching HGTV. Those things provided DeStephen distractions.
Not much more could have gone wrong his first semester. He pleaded guilty to alcohol possession. He broke a bone in his right hand. He got E. coli poisoning. He dove for months with a misdiagnosed fracture in his spine. And he developed mononucleosis.
But the toughest challenge came when a teammate broke his trust and told the rest of the team that he was gay without his permission.
DeStephen went on a date a couple months into his freshman year — his first date with a guy.
He told only three friends in Ohio that he was gay before coming to Columbia. DeStephen felt an attraction to guys, but he thought he may be bisexual. He says he was still “involved” with girls when he made that first same-sex date.
“I was starting to figure out more that I was gay, but I was still also hanging out with girls as well at that point,” he says of his first couple months at Missouri. “I was starting to come to terms with it (being gay).”
DeStephen came to Missouri getting a 95 percent scholarship. The NCAA allows schools 9.9 scholarships for men’s swimming and diving teams. With 0.95 going to DeStephen, that left 8.95 to divide among the other 28 men in the Missouri program.
Jealousy could have been enough to make DeStephen an outsider.
But when a teammate revealed DeStephen’s date with a guy, the 5-foot-8 diver’s chance at acceptance that year ended.
“For the divers, it wasn’t that big of a deal,” says Ryan Meeker, a diver and DeStephen’s roommate when they were freshmen. “For some of the older swimmers, especially, I think they may have felt uncomfortable with it. They didn’t spend as much time around Greg. … I did definitely notice there was a little friction there for sure.”
The older swimmers ignored him and treated him like he was not there. They did not sit with him for meals at the Mizzou Athletics Training Complex. If they saw him at a party, members of the men’s swim team avoided talking with him.
“I probably wasn’t being invited to a lot of stuff,” DeStephen says. “When you’re on a team of that size and you’re together that much and you have to count on each other to compete and really make an impact, I think it’s always a good thing to have that connection to be able to count on them. It also drives you to want to do better for those people. … That was missing.”
None of his teammates said a bad thing to his face, but he heard the things they said. He was told that one teammate said he was “going to hell.” Seven years later, the comment that hurts most was a teammate saying he did not want to change in front of DeStephen.
“It dug in deep,” DeStephen says. “I was there to do a job. I was there to compete and train. I wasn’t there to stare guys down in the locker room. … I was insulted and kind of annoyed.”
As his challenges grew that first semester, DeStephen found a quote online that resonated with him: “Adversity causes some men to break, others to break records.” He typed it out, printed it on a half-sheet of copier paper and taped it in his locker at the Mizzou Aquatic Center. DeStephen read it each day for the rest of that season and throughout subsequent seasons.
“What I was going through at that point, I could draw on those experiences to make me work harder and really have an outlet for how I was feeling,” he says.
That approach got him to the NCAA Championship meet for the first time. DeStephen was one of only three Missouri men to compete at the 2007 NCAAs, and that success gained him acceptance on the team. His 20th-place finish in platform diving was the best result of Missouri’s three NCAA competitors.
“I think people who doubted him, whether or not it was because of his sexual orientation, gave him motivation to be better, to be stronger, to dive better, to accomplish more,” says Kendra Melnychuk, a Missouri diver from 2005 to 2009. “Any kind of negative talk that you can throw at him just made him fight harder.”
DeStephen spent the summer after his freshman year in a back brace and back in the closet.
He returned home to Columbus, Ohio, and worked as an intern with Nestle. He had yet to tell his parents he was gay.
He wound up in the back brace after attempting a front 3 1/2 pike off the 3-meter springboard at Ohio State’s aquatic center. The dive — which involved DeStephen performing 3 1/2 somersaults with his knees straightened and his body bent forward at the waist, leaving little gap between his upper body and his legs — went fine, but he could not move for 10 seconds in the water. An orthopedic surgeon found DeStephen had aggravated a fracture in his spine that had been there for months. His injury meant no diving from June to October.
Without diving, DeStephen found his first boyfriend.
A mutual friend introduced them at a party. They exchanged numbers. They started talking.
DeStephen desired to have his first relationship, and they became “involved” off and on for nearly nine months.
“I think it was just something that I wanted to experience at that time,” DeStephen says. “It’s something that I’d never had in my life. It was important to me to just have that experience. I think it was pushed a little bit hard and maybe not with the right person.”
The only time DeStephen remembers crying in college was during a trying time with his boyfriend.
But he also made DeStephen happy. Being able to say for the first time that he had a boyfriend was “relieving.”
The negatives were eventually too much, and DeStephen ended things in April 2008.
The ups and downs of his first relationship did not stop his diving success. DeStephen captured his first All-American honor by finishing 12th in the 3-meter springboard at the 2008 NCAA Championships.
The accolade was significant for him and challenged stereotypes.
“It’s part of society’s beliefs that a gay man can’t be as athletic and successful as a straight man,” DeStephen says of sports overall. “It wasn’t as accepted even five years ago.”
In May of his sophomore year, DeStephen read a story on Gay.com about Maryland-Baltimore County swimmer Fred Deal announcing he was gay. DeStephen sent the website an email that he liked the Deal story and that he was a gay diver himself. The site responded asking if it could tell his story — the gay All-American diver in the heartland.
“I wasn’t really sure what that (Gay.com) was,” DeStephen says. “I just stumbled upon the article. I was a little apprehensive about it.”
Missouri diving coach Jamie Sweeney encouraged DeStephen to let himself be written about, but DeStephen knew he had to do something else first. He had to finally tell his parents that he was gay.
“It put pressure on me to do something I wanted to do anyways,” he says.
He had 13 days back in Columbus between the end of spring semester and the start of summer school. On his 12th and final night at home, he sat with his mom, Karen, in his parent’s downstairs office and told her.
The next morning, he told his dad.
“I wanted to let you know that I am gay,” DeStephen said to his dad, Steve.
It was one sentence, and then he waited for a response.
Steve DeStephen remembers feeling compassion and thinking: “This is not something you really wish on your children” and “It brings extra pressure on you.”
But the words he chose have stuck with both of them for almost six years. Steve DeStephen looked into Greg’s blue eyes and said, “Honestly, I don’t care. I’ll support you. What is important is that you’re a good person in this world.”
They finished their conversation and hugged.
Greg DeStephen then drove the eight hours back to Columbia that final Wednesday of May in his black 2006 Subaru Impreza. He felt prepared to do what no Missouri athlete had ever done. He would soon tell the world he was gay.
Gay.com staff writer Robert Ordona interviewed DeStephen and Sweeney. The article “Dive Talkin’” published online June 17, 2008. It was the day before the U.S. Olympic Diving Trials.
With astonishment, DeStephen posted on his Facebook page that day: “the front page of gay.com…what?”
It was the first time he made a Facebook post indicating he was gay. There was nothing more to hide.
“Once I came out and that was something that was put behind me, it let me really focus on what was important,” DeStephen says. “It just let me be who I was, and I wasn’t hiding a secret anymore. That definitely weighs on you.”
He was free.
His team knew. His parents knew. The world knew.
He was done with serious boyfriends for the rest of college. His focus was diving.
But being honest about his sexuality gave DeStephen a new identity.
He was the openly gay Missouri athlete.
“For a long time, I didn’t want to have the reputation as the gay athlete,” DeStephen says. “I wanted people to get to know who I was and learn that’s a part of who I am. That’s not who I am. The fact of the matter is, when you are not a part of the norm, that’s what you are usually associated with. I feel like throughout the athletic department for a long time, that is what people related me to.”
By the end of his junior year, the swimming and diving team knew DeStephen for more than his sexuality. The team elected him captain for the 2009-10 season.
DeStephen’s senior year was Brian Hoffer’s 18th year as Missouri swimming and diving head coach, and the first time during Hoffer’s tenure that a male diver had been elected captain.
“It was really apparent that there was a respect from the team,” Hoffer says. “They respected him as a person and respected him as an athlete and, obviously, elected him a team captain. … I’m really proud of the team for doing that.”
The respect for DeStephen came from his effort in practice and in the weight room. The 5-foot-8, 150-pound diver could squat 325 pounds as a senior. His thighs were so muscular that his teammates started calling him “Quadzilla,” a play on the name of Japan’s most famous monster.
A football underclassman tried to correct DeStephen’s lifting form once, late in his career. The lineman stood half a foot taller than DeStephen, but the diver politely let the lineman know that he could lift more with his legs than half the football players.
“In working with athletes, there are those that choose to separate themselves from the norm and outwork everyone else, regardless of the circumstances. Greg is that type,” Missouri weightlifting coach Tyler Looney said when nominating DeStephen to represent Missouri as a 2010 All-American Strength and Conditioning Athlete of the Year.
His hard work was derailed when he caught the flu in 2009 on the wrong weekend, causing him to miss that year’s NCAA meet. He returned to NCAAs in 2010 and captured three All-American honors in his final collegiate meet.
A few weeks after the NCAA meet, DeStephen represented the U.S. at the Canada Cup. He says representing the country is the highlight of his diving career.
But it also marked the beginning of the end.
That August, DeStephen remembers talking to a club diving coach while waiting to compete at the U.S. Nationals and saying, “I don’t really know if this is something I want anymore.” DeStephen proceeded to have what he calls “the best meet of my life.”
He followed that meet with a break from diving. September arrived, and his passion was still gone. DeStephen decided he was done diving.
He graduated in May 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in banking and finance.
DeStephen now lives in Dallas and is a college recruiter for Ernst & Young.
After two years at a different company in St. Louis, he moved in July to Dallas, where, he says, his new employers make him feel comfortable about being openly gay. He recently started pursuing speaking opportunities to discuss being an out athlete. The website OutSports.com in November listed DeStephen as one of 107 LGBT athletes, coaches and administrators willing to share their stories.
“I felt for a long time that if I ever have the ability to change things for the better, that I would do that,” DeStephen says. “It is something that I’ve thought about a lot growing up and, especially, now.”
Part of that change involves ending the misconception that homosexuality defines a person.
DeStephen will probably never know if the man who confronted him at El Rancho has since changed his views on gay people. But he witnessed a transformation in acceptance among Missouri athletes. He went from outcast to team captain on the swimming and diving team.
He created an environment wherein Missouri swimmer Vito Cammisano came out to the team in 2011 and says he experienced zero anti-gay sentiment.
“I’m completely appreciative that Greg did everything he could to make that possible for people that came after him,” says Cammisano, who swam for Missouri from 2009 to 2012.
Sometimes, DeStephen saw acceptance change in the span of one night.
Near the end of his college career, DeStephen and some other athletes were drinking and preparing to go downtown. As they got in a car to head to Field House, wrestler Nick Marable told DeStephen: “You’re really cool for a gay guy.”
A multitude of ways to interpret that statement flashed through DeStephen’s head, but he settled on saying, “Thanks.”
“I saw it as perspectives changing,” he says now.
He didn’t know that night Marable would become a good friend, but he knew the wrestler’s heart was in the right place.
DeStephen says, “He had a certain view of what a gay guy was supposed to be, and I didn’t fit into that box.”
COLUMBIA — Missouri defensive end Michael Sam knew the time was right.
He knew when he got to Missouri that he was gay. He knew before his All-American season in 2013 that he was ready to tell his teammates. And now, as he prepares for the 2014 NFL Draft, he knows the time is right for him to announce his sexuality publicly.
"I believe it’s the right time," Sam told the Missourian in a phone interview Sunday night. "It’s a time I can finally tell my story and how I want to tell it."
The story of Sam announcing his sexuality began in August. Sam came out to his teammates during a meeting on Aug. 15. He thought about coming out to the Missourian before the season began and says his team supported him in that decision. But, he had a change of heart and decided not to talk to the media throughout the season.
"I wasn’t quite prepared," Sam said. "Later, I wanted to focus on my season, and I didn’t want that attention on myself at that time."
Talking to his teammates was enough. Sam had the best season of his career, collecting 19 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks and earning the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year award in the process.
"I felt relieved," Sam said. "I felt I can finally be myself. I was happy with who I am. I was comfortable in my own skin, and my teammates rallied around me.
"I never got any negativity. No one said anything. All my teammates were very supportive, the coaches were supportive and the whole athletic department was supportive."
Sam said no one from Missouri football or the athletics department persuaded him from coming out before or during the team’s 2013 season.
"No, never," Sam said. "They told me that, ‘Hey, if you want to tell your story, man, we are going to be behind you 100 percent all the way.’ I just wanted to tell it on my own and wanted to focus on the season. I had a great season. We all did."
Even before coming out to his team, Sam felt comfortable going to the Columbia gay bar The SoCo Club. He went there regularly and even danced with other guys.
"At that time, I knew who I was," Sam said. "I knew I was gay, and I felt in a comfortable environment."
Sam felt in control of his story while in Columbia, but at the Senior Bowl in late January, Sam started to feel he might not have control of his story much longer.
"Some people tried to call people and dig up on me," Sam said. "Even though it was open knowledge (in Columbia), I wasn’t hiding anything. I was comfortable with myself, but people tried to dig stuff on me and do a story. I wanted to tell my story the way I wanted to."
Sam realized after the Senior Bowl he could not wait too much longer to come out.
"I wanted to tell my story the way I wanted to," Sam said. "I didn’t want anyone to ask me or trick me into talking about my sexuality."
On Sunday night, Sam announced his sexuality on multiple media outlets. He knows he has the potential to be one of the most prominent gay athletes yet, and he’s prepared for the attention that will come along with that. He’s not worried, either.
"No, not at all," Sam said. "I know who I am. I know what I have to do. I’m not scared. I’m not afraid."
Update: Includes comments from Cyd Zeigler, publisher of outsports.com and comments from Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel.
COLUMBIA — Missouri defensive end Michael Sam has a challenge in front of him.
He already went from being a two-star recruit out of Hitchcock, Texas, to an All-American and the 2013 Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year. He was the breakout star on a Missouri team that reached the SEC Championship game in 2013.
Now, Sam is preparing for the 2014 NFL Draft, which could be his biggest challenge yet. After announcing publicly Sunday he is gay, Sam is attempting to become the first openly gay player in the NFL.
"This is the most important story in the history of gay sports," said Cyd Zeigler, publisher of outsports.com, a website that covers gay sports.
"This is going to dominate headlines and really change how people see football and all of sports."
Sam, who is projected as a mid-round pick in May’s NFL Draft, could become the first openly gay athlete in the NFL — or any major American professional sport.
Sam first came out to his team during fall camp in August and played the best football season of his life in 2013.
"We’re really happy for Michael that he’s made the decision to announce this, and we’re proud of him and how he represents Mizzou," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said in a statement.
"Looking back, I take great pride in how everyone in our program handled his situation. This past August, Michael was very direct with the team when he decided to let everyone know that he is gay We discussed how to deal with that from a public standpoint and ultimately Michael decided that he didn’t want that to be the focal point of the season."
Sam entered his senior season with 17 career tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. As a senior, he led the SEC with 19 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks.
After fall camp, Sam stopped doing interviews with the media in an effort to focus on school and football. His 2013 success suggests the decision paid off. In a span of four games during September and October, Sam collected three sacks in three different games and returned a fumble for a touchdown in Missouri’s upset victory over Georgia on Oct. 12.
On Jan. 25, Sam competed in the 2014 Senior Bowl, a postseason all-star game showcasing the best senior prospects for the 2014 NFL Draft.
Sam recently hired publicist Howard Bragman, who is openly gay. Bragman has represented LGBT athletes, including three-time Olympic women’s basketball gold medalist Sheryl Swoopes and retired NBA player John Amaechi, according to OutSports.com.
Sam is scheduled to participate in the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis from Feb. 20 to Feb. 25. ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said in a conference call last week that he expects Sam to be drafted between the third and fifth round.
Sam attended Hitchcock (Texas) High School. The 6-foot-2, 255-pound defensive end was a member of the Missouri team from 2009 to 2013. He redshirted during the 2009 season.
Sam is one of at least 10 former Division I football players to come out as gay after his college football career. No Division I football player has come out during his college career, according to OutSports.com.
The only Missouri athlete to previously announce publicly that he was gay is four-time All-American diver Greg DeStephen, who dove for Missouri from 2006 to 2010. DeStephen came out in 2008.
“I would like to congratulate Michael and say how inspiring his courage is to come out publicly,” DeStephen told the Missourian on Sunday. “I wish him the best. I hope this sends the message that the sports world is becoming an inclusive environment that allows athletes to excel no matter who they are or what they are. Young athletes will now be able to see that they can be top athletes gay or straight. I can’t say how excited I am that a Missouri Tiger has taken it on himself to be the first top level football player to come out. I’m proud to say that I am part of the Missouri Tiger family that has created an atmosphere of acceptance and a tradition of excellence.”
The artistry of diving is amazing. Greg DeStephen is quite the impressive athlete even if he wasn’t an All-American diver.
The cast of “The Good Wife.” (Photo from: http://mashable.com/2013/08/30/good-wife-hulu-4-season-5/)
By Erik Hall
That was quite a way for “The Good Wife” to go into its winter hiatus. The show has been fast paced and intense the first 10 episodes of this season, and CBS obliged by airing the show 10 consecutive Sundays.
Sunday’s episode “The Decision Tree” ended with quite a surprising twist with Illinois Governor Peter Florrick’s staff member Marilyn Garbanza saying she plans to name her unborn baby Peter. Florrick’s head of public relations, Eli Gold, spits out his drink. That’s how the show ended. After Gold (played by Alan Cumming) spits out his drink, the executive producer card came on the screen.
I had no inclination that Garbanza (Melissa George) might be carrying Florrick’s child until midway through this episode even though Garbanza’s pregnancy was a subplot for several weeks leading to Sunday. Somehow the way Garbanza talked about the baby in one scene Sunday made me wonder. I’m not convinced the baby is Florrick’s, but it would not surprise me if it was his considering Florrick’s philandering past.
This comes after an already emotionally intense episode. Will Gardner (Josh Charles) finally shows viewers how much he was hurt by Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) leaving Lockhart/Gardner. He is battling these feelings internally and not letting the other characters in the show see these feelings, but they are on display for the viewer for the first time. A scene with Gardner and Florrick on the balcony having an intimate moment was extremely meaningful to Gardner, and it shows how much he is hurt. Gardner tries to use that moment to now hurt Florrick, but it does not work. He is left to deal with hurt feelings.
That all came in the second half of the episode.
The highlight of the first half of the episode came as Nathan Lane’s character Clarke Hayden gets his first chance to do cross examination. Lane’s characters in other roles are usually boisterous and flamboyant. The ability of him to play awkward and strong so artfully shows the talent of this man. He was nominated for an Emmy last year for his work on “The Good Wife,” and I hope this year he brings it home.
Lane’s Hayden makes the show stronger, but the second half of the season will hinge on if the Florrick household must handle another betrayal. Or is Gardner the only one feeling betrayed.
And who knows how long the wait will be. It is not listed on IMDB.com when the next episode of “The Good Wife” will air. My guess is the best case scenario is early January, and worst case is after the Olympics end in February.
What’s happened to network TV on Thanksgiving night? Why has no one picked up the mantle of “Friends” that annually showed a special Thanksgiving episode?
Fox’s airing of “X-Factor” and “Glee” were the only regularly scheduled shows to air that night.
NBC aired football. CBS showed a marathon of reruns of “The Crazy Ones.” ABC showed Thanksgiving specials with Charlie Brown & the Muppets.
With “X-Factor” being a reality show, “Glee” was the only hope for a series showing a Thanksgiving episode. I was letdown to see the main aim of the show was to explain using puppets instead of the actors by having the janitor rig a gas leak. Needless to say, it was a weak episode.
I spent most of the night watching the Mark Twain award presentation to Carol Burnett on PBS. Even that could have been improved. It was hard to tell Burnett had done much in her career besides “The Carol Burnett Show.” But it was still enjoyable.
If the networks are not going to provide better Thanksgiving night options, I hope PBS continues to save the Mark Twain presentation for Thanksgiving night.
Dan Rather was a reporter for CBS in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.
By Erik Hall
The coverage of the 50th anniversary of President John Kennedy’s assassination has been fascinating. I’ve watched documentaries and retrospectives the last couple weeks from PBS, CNN, CBS and the History Channel. I recorded one tonight from NBC that I have not watched yet.
I have always enjoyed watching stuff about the Kennedys, but there has still been new video and information that I have gained the past couple weeks. I’m sure other people less interested than me are picking up much more information, as well.
But one thing I have particularly enjoyed about all the coverage of the events in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, is that has brought Dan Rather back to the public.
I enjoyed Rather when he was anchor at CBS, and I thought he did not get treated well on his way out at CBS. He made a mistake, but everyone does. His punishment did not fit the crime.
But it seems like every network is eager to have interviews with Rather as part of their JFK 50th anniversary packages since he is probably the most well-known reporter involved in the coverage that was in Dallas.
It also reminds me how great the network anchors were for that 20-year stretch when ABC had Peter Jennings, CBS had Dan Rather and NBC had Tom Brokaw. Then suddenly all three were gone from the anchor chair just a few months apart.
NBC’s Brian Williams is the only current anchor that has the potential to live up to the stature those men achieved. Scott Pelley does good “60 Minutes” pieces, but he just does not feel like an anchor. Diane Sawyer at ABC was great on “Good Morning America,” but her age will prevent her from a long tenure hosting the network news.
I don’t know enough about being a broadcaster to delineate the best between Rather, Brokaw and Jennings, but even Williams has a long way to go to get to their stature.
I’m just glad Rather is getting another moment in the sun.
He has been relegated to Mark Cuban’s HD Network, I believe lately. About the only time I’ve seen him has been occasional appearances on “The Daily Show.”
I hope the taint is wearing off of the “60 Minutes II” scandal. I hope some major news organization will start to use him the way that NBC uses Tom Brokaw for major news events.
And I’m glad all his memories of JFK 50th are being recorded as well as anyone else possible, because for the 75th anniversary in 2038, it is doubtful anyone significantly involved in the events will still be around.