Former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam's decision to declare publicly that he's gay was met with support Monday from within the Southeastern Conference.
"Obviously we've got the freedom of choice, and obviously he feels good about who he is," Arkansas basketball coach Mike Anderson said on the league's weekly teleconference. "That's the most important thing. He came out and openly admitted it, and I'm sure he feels a lot better about himself and who he is."
Sam led the SEC in sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (19) for a Tigers team that capped a 12-2 season with a win over Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl. Missouri won the SEC East in just its second season in the league but lost the conference championship game 59-42 to Auburn.
In multiple interviews that were published Sunday by outlets such as ESPN and the New York Times, Sam said he informed Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel, the assistant coaches and his teammates during August camp.
"It takes a lot of courage for that young man to do what he's done," Missouri basketball coach Frank Haith said, "and I'm very proud of him. I'm very proud of our university. My head is held high this this morning, and it's kind of a footprint of how to handle the situation.
"You've got to give it to Gary Pinkel and how he handled that locker room, because it's how everybody should handle a situation like that."
Pinkel expressed his support for Sam on Sunday evening, calling the 6-foot-2, 255-pounder from Hitchcock, Texas, a "great example of just how important it is to be respectful of others. He's taught a lot of people here firsthand that it doesn't matter what your background is or your personal orientation. We're all on the same team, and we all support each other."
Former Alabama punter Cody Mandell was among the first SEC players to offer support Sunday. Posting on Twitter, Mandell said, "Michael Sam is an awesome football player, and that's the job he's signing up for. What he did is courageous."
On Monday, more former foes weighed in.
"On a personal level, it's awesome for him," former Georgia tight end Arthur Lynch told the Macon Telegraph. "I can imagine he's been trying to figure out when, or if and when, he was going to come out publicly. For him to do it before the biggest interview of his life, essentially, which is the NFL combine, takes a lot of guts. I commend him on that."
Sam is a fourth- or fifth-round NFL draft selection according to longtime ESPN analyst Mel Kiper and could become the NFL's first active openly gay player. His admission dominated sports headlines Sunday night and throughout Monday, but Vanderbilt basketball coach Kevin Stallings expressed hope that the spotlight would not accompany every future announcement.
"I'll be glad when the day comes when it's a non-issue," Stallings said. "It should become a non-issue, because obviously there have been gay athletes in every professional sport in every locker room over the course of time. The only difference is now we may know about some of them as opposed to not knowing, but it hasn't affected a locker room up to now, it doesn't seem.
"Hopefully we get to a day when it doesn't even have to be discussed."
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