It takes a brave man to take on an institution like the NFL. But Michael Sam, the Missouri football player who came out over the weekend, had another hurdle to overcome: his own family. In particular, his father, for whom Sam is named, is especially unhappy with the news.
“I’m old-school,” Michael Sam Sr. told The New York Times. “I’m a man and a woman type of guy.” How old school? He took another of his sons to Mexico for the express purpose of losing his virginity, with a woman of course.
The Times story illustrates the difficult background that Michael Sam has had to overcome to achieve success. He is one of eight children. A sister drowned when she was two years old. One brother was shot and killed during a break-in; another hasn’t been seen since he left for work one day in 1998 and is presumed dead. Two other brothers are in jail. The family was well known in its hometown of Hitchcock, TX, for being troublesome.
Michael Sam found salvation in football, which caused a rift between him and his mother, a Jehovah’s Witness who doesn’t believe in sports. Sam was fortunate enough to find a coach who mentored him. He was even luckier to have a friend whose parents (the father was president of a local bank) took Sam into live with them. That family, the Purls, were instrumental in setting Sam’s sights on college.
Sam says now that he is “closer to my friends than I am to my family.” While he was out to his friends, teammates and adoptive family for some time, he only texted his father with the news last week. Michael Sam Sr. got the message while celebrating his birthday at a Denny’s near his home in Dallas.
“I couldn’t eat no more, so I went to Applebee’s to have drinks,” Sam Sr. said. “I don’t want my grandkids raised in that kind of environment.”
While Sam Sr. says he loves his son, he openly doubts the idea of an openly gay NFL player, even if that man is his son. The Times article says that Sam Sr. “grumbled” that NFL Hall of Famer Deacon Jones “is turning over in his grave.” Actually, to be fair to Jones, we have no idea how he would have felt.
Michael Sam Jr. acknowledges that his family life was tough. “It was very hard growing up in that environment,” he says. “Everyone would say, ‘There goes those damn Sams.’”
Sam is determined to rise above that past and to prove something to his family. “I knew the good in my family despite Hitchcock’s wariness about them. They didn’t know our background and the adversity we had to endure. I wanted to succeed and be a beacon of hope in my family.”
Whether his family likes it or not, he’s well on his way.