One month after declaring himself a “proud gay man,” former University of Missouri football player Michael Sam is selling self-promoting merchandise.
The 6-foot-3-inch, 260-pound defensive lineman was the Associated Press’ Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. If drafted as expected in May, Sam could become the first openly gay player in the National Football League.
Sam announced Friday he is selling shirts for $21.99 and boxes of buttons ranging from $25 to $100. The shirts carry the message “#SamStrong” or “Stand with Sam,” with one featuring a rainbow background. The “Stand with Sam” slogan emerged on the Missouri campus soon after Sam’s public declaration of his homosexuality. The majority of the shirts are in Missouri’s black and gold colors. Missouri students supported Sam last month by forming a human wall to block protestors from Westboro Baptist Church from being seen on campus.
With the announcement, Sam tweeted, “A portion of the proceeds of all Michael Sam gear will be going to at-risk youth in the St. Louis area.”
SB Nation reported Monday that Sam’s agents said the merchandise is in response to demand. Agents Joe Barkett and Cameron Weiss did not confirm that reason, though. The agents did not respond to WORLD inquiries Monday, and Sam’s publicist, Howard Bragman, declined to comment on any aspect of the merchandise plan. The “at-risk youth” charity remains unidentified.
At the NFL scouting combine in late February, Sam tried to downplay his status as an icon for gay rights. “I just wish you guys would just see me as Michael Sam the football player instead of Michael Sam the gay football player,” he said. Since Sam came out, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s openly gay brother, Michael, has called him a “hero,” comparing him to Jackie Robinson, who broke major league baseball's color barrier. Former Baltimore Ravens player Brendon Ayanbadejo, in a Fox Sports column, compared Sam to Robinson and civil rights icon Rosa Parks.
The merchandising scheme has drawn isolated jeers on the internet. The gossip site TMZ sneered, “If you had ‘under one month’ in your ‘When Will Michael Sam Cash in on His Newfound Fame’ office pool, then congrats … YOU’RE A WINNER!!!”
The NFL Draft is May 8, and Sam faces a tough road to making a team even without the controversy surrounding him. At the scouting combine, Sam’s 4.91-second 40-yard dash and his 17 bench-press reps were among the worst at his position.