Michael Sam is known for being the first openly gay man to be drafted in the NFL — but the athlete says he’s not the only gay player to make his way onto the pro-football field.
Although the former St. Louis Rams player refused to estimate how many professional footballers are gay, Sam said players reached out to him following his seventh-round draft pick in 2014, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
“I’m just saying there [are] a lot of us,” he said at a speech in Dallas. “I respect the players that did reach out to me and had the courage to tell me that they were also gay, but they do not have the same courage as I do to come out before I even played a down in the NFL.”
After Sam was released from the Rams, he joined the Cowboys’ practice squad, and was subsequently cut by the Dallas team in October. He participated in the NFL veterans combine last weekend, and remains hopeful he’ll someday find a permanent home in the league.
“Hopefully I’m not being discriminated [against] because I’m gay. I don’t believe that I’m being discriminated [against] because I’m gay,” Sam said, according to the Star-Telegram. “I just want to know if I’m truly not in the NFL, it’s because of talent. Let it be because of my talents. But you’ve got to prove that I can’t play this game. If you look at the film, clearly I can. So, I’ll leave it at that.”
Sam is currently working on Season 20 of Dancing with the Stars, where he competes with Peta Murgatroyd. While speaking at the 2015 Dallas Holocaust Museum’s Upstander Speaker series, Sam said his NFL joblessness could be why his fellow gay football players aren’t coming out of the closet in the wake of his historic play.
“Dancing with the Stars is my employer,” Sam said. “That’s my main source of income. … I’m unemployed, and I don’t believe I’m out of the NFL because I’m gay. But if it was a reason, it can hurt their livelihood, and you don’t want to take that chance.”
Sam, who is 25-year-old, asked his fiancé Vito Cammisano to marry him in January above St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.