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Richard-John Mensing, Jr. Headshot

History in the Making but There's More to the Story

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Each year the NFL Draft is filled with fascinating, engaging and unique storylines. Some are well-known, others are told for the first time, but rarely, if ever, do they have the historical impact like Michael Sam's selection will.

Immediately after his name is announced the conversations will begin. Most analysts will focus on Sam's football talent and how those intangibles might benefit his new team. Others will fixate on what type of "distraction" he'll be or how he'll be accepted in the locker room. Whether or not those questions are valid, the real story should be how Michael Sam's courage makes it so when the next openly gay college football player enters the NFL Draft -- and there will be one -- the story of their sexual orientation will not be the story at all.

Michael Sam's role as an agent of change puts him in a proud and growing number of men and women in high school, college and pro sports to come out.

From Britney Griner and Derrick Gordon, to Megan Rapione and Matt Dooley, these athletes share a commonality far greater than the labels used to define them. Instead what unites them and so many others is their need to put an end to the lying and the hiding, and the desire to live with authenticity.

In the past, bravery like this was met with contempt and confusion in turn pushing others further back into the proverbial closet. Because of pioneers like Jason Collins, Bille Jean King and Robbie Rogers, those coming out now have role models who've proven that fear paralyzes, truth equalizes and kicking the door wide open is getting easier.

These much-needed and highly relatable individuals are pivotal in changing public perception, shattering stereotypes and transforming locker rooms, school hallways and family dinner tables across the country.

This increased visibility produces not only a safer environment for these athletes, but results in a rebirth of sorts for many of them -- by finally letting go of the suffocating secret and the accompanying feelings of depression, anger and even suicide.

With this new found freedom comes an increased level of productivity and not just in their respective sports but also in their lives as a whole. It is one of the first things open LBGT athletes point to -- the correlation between happiness and success, self-worth and pure potential. Teammates, coaches, teachers and parents also acknowledge how just saying "I'm gay" has renewed their drive to thrive, illustrating the devastating effects such prejudices can have on an individual, and the importance of teaching tolerance and promoting inclusion.

The shift in attitudes and acceptance goes beyond a person's inner circle. Communities, organizations and corporations continue to rally around these athletes and the larger issue of equal rights. Turning a deaf ear to the political and religious agendas and focusing instead on the discriminatory and dignity aspects. Recognizing the impact agents of change are having on altering the preconceived perception of gays and sports.

Nike's #BeTrue campaign is just one example of corporate support along these lines. Professional leagues, universities and high schools continue to partner with organizations, like Athlete Ally and OutSports, to better assist them in crafting their own message and improving the culture for all involved -- just as they've triumphantly done for so many closeted athletes stepping forward to tell their stories.

These stories focus on the similarities rather than on the one thing that makes them different. A difference that someday -- whether in a pro draft, a World Cup match or a high school basketball game -- won't make a difference at all... thanks in large part to the fearless actions of agents of change.

 
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