When Gary Pinkel woke up this morning, he reflected on what happened the previous night.
“This is not about Mizzou.”
“This is not about one player.”
“This is going to have a profound effect on sport.”
Former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam announced on Sunday he is gay. He may be the first active NFL player that is gay when he is drafted in May.
Sam came out to his team in August, and decided to not come out until after the season ended. Sam helped the team to a 12-2 record and a Cotton Bowl championship.
“I am proud to be his football coach,” Gary Pinkel said. “I think it can have a huge positive influence on our society. I think over time it will.
Before the season started, Pinkel said Sam came out to a group of players at a team dinner. The coach called Sam into his office and the two talked about his decision to tell the team.
“I told him, ‘I am proud of you, I love you’ and I hugged him, “Pinkel recalled.
The Missouri coach said he and Sam went over different scenarios, going over the enormity of his decision to come out eventually.
“I use the word ‘mammoth’ a lot. But I don’t have a word (for) how big this is going to be.”
Sam ultimately decided not to make his sexuality public during the season.
When given a hypothetical situation in which Sam would come out during the season, Gary Pinkel said Sam would “possibly” have been a distraction.
“I did not know when it was going to happen,” Pinkel said, adding that Sam told him he did not want to announce that he was gay before the Cotton Bowl.
Pinkel also said when Sam was at the Senior Bowl, the former Missouri player found out other people knew he was gay. That was when he told Pinkel that “he wanted to tell his own story.”
Sam would eventually reveal to ESPN and the New York Times that he was gay.
“”It was awesome. It was very important for me to see that,” Pinkel said.
The Missouri head coach also shared how the team handled having a gay player on the team. He said the teams need to know how to handle disagreements, and try to avoid confrontation when possible.
“You can’t act like that. We’re not going to do that. That does not make you a tough guy. We respect people.”
“One of the great experiences in the locker room for a football player is the camaraderie.”
It is certain that NFL teams and other colleges will come to Missouri and ask the coaching staff how the locker room dynamic works with a gay football player. Pinkel said the atmosphere is rooted in respect, something he said he learned at a young age.
“(Growing up) I go after the bullies, man,” the MU head coach said. “That’s the way I was brought up. I don’t care. You are respectful to people.”
“I am not naive enough, when you have 127 players–and everyone has ideas, opinions and thoughts on all kinds of social issues–some of the players may not agree or have an opinion on it. But that’s ok. It does not matter what my opinion is on it either. It’s about being respectful to people.”
Pinkel also hopes the mental dynamic of the football player will change for the better.
“You don’t have to the tough, bad football player verbally destroy people to be one. You can be as physically and mentally tough as anybody without verbally tear people down.”