For all the support that former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam has received since announcing that he is gay, the father of NFL's first openly gay draft prospect has said it has been difficult for him to accept.
Michael Sam Sr. said the news was revealed to him last Tuesday, when his son sent him a text that read "I'm gay" while he was celebrating a birthday at a Denny's restaurant. Sam Sr. said the text brought the party to an abrupt end.
"I couldn't eat no more, so I went to Applebee's to have drinks," Sam Sr. said, according to The New York Times. "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."
The relationship between father and son, as described in the feature about Sam Jr.'s upbringing, is complicated at best. Among eight children, two are dead, one is believed to be dead, and two are incarcerated. Sam Jr., as a college graduate, is the family's biggest success story, but Sam Sr. is nevertheless at odds with his son's sexual orientation.
In discussing the idea of a gay football player, Sam Sr. said that Hall of Fame defensive end Deacon Jones is "is turning over in his grave."
The younger Sam said he typically stays with friends rather than family when he returns to his hometown of Hitchcock, Texas, where he was a two-star recruit at Hitchcock High.
"I'm closer to my friends than I am to my family," the younger Sam said.
Close enough, apparently, to be open about his sexual orientation with a number of friends long before Sunday's public announcement, described in the story as "casual disclosures."
Various Missouri teammates were aware of Sam's open secret before the entire team learned the news last August. One of those was wide receiver L'Damian Washington, one of Sam's closest friends on the team. Washington is an NFL draft prospect himself and one of seven Tigers, along with Sam, who have been invited to the NFL Scouting Combine later this month. He said he believes Sam's outstanding senior season was in part made possible by his admission to the team.
"I think mostly why Mike had such a great season this year is that he could be himself," Washington said. "He got that big boulder off his back. Like, finally. I think it was a huge relief. He could be himself and not always be hiding something from everybody."
UPDATE: Two days after Michael Sam Sr.'s interview with the New York Times was published, Sam Sr. told the Galveston County (Texas) Daily News that he was "terribly misquoted" in the article and claimed that the Times had taken his quotes out of context. Sam Sr. denied saying that he was "a man and a woman type of guy" and that he didn't want his "grandkids raised in that kind of environment." The Times article also quoted Sam Sr. as saying that "Deacon Jones is turning over in his grave," casting the idea of a gay football player in a negative light; Sam Sr. said the quote was meant to be positive: "I told them that Deacon Jones is going to roll over in his grave because here comes my son and that he's going to be a star in the NFL," he said. The Times said it stands by its story and reporting.