Arthur Lynch was matched up often against Michael Sam the final two seasons of their college careers. They both were first-team All-SEC picks after last season, Lynch as Georgia’s tight end and Sam as Missouri’s defensive end. The two met and spoke a bit last month at the Senior Bowl, as both pursued their NFL dreams.
Lynch was surprised Sunday night upon hearing that Sam had publicly revealed he is gay. But Lynch, who has gone public in his support for gay rights, was also happy to hear it.
“On a personal level it’s awesome for him,” Lynch said Monday. “I can imagine he’s been trying to figure out when, or if and when, he was gonna come out publicly. And for him to do it before the biggest (job) interview of his life, essentially, which is the NFL combine, takes a lot of guts. I commend him on that. Man to man, I think it takes a certain amount of courage and inner strength to do that.”
In last year’s Missouri win at Georgia, it was Sam who returned a fumble 21 yards for a touchdown, making it 28-10. And it was Lynch who tried unsuccessfully to run down Sam.
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“I had no idea he was gay when I was playing against him. Especially when I was running down after him as he was scoring a touchdown after a fumble recovery. That didn’t register in my mind. And if we were to run back that play now, and I knew he was gay, it wouldn’t have mattered, because at the end of the day it’s still a game,” Lynch said. “I could see where it puts him in a tough bind if he doesn’t want to come out. But the fact that he did speaks wonders about him as an individual. But it’ll be interesting to see what the backlash is. I think I saw Mel Kiper said he’s a mid-round guy. Well if you’re a mid-round guy and you have no off-the-field issues, you’re gonna get picked no matter what. So it’ll be interesting to see if a team grades him out and wants to take him in the mid-rounds.”
Pro basketball player Jason Collins, who came out last summer, still hasn’t been signed by a team, Lynch pointed out. But Collins is on the downside of his career, so it’s a bit of a different situation. Sam was projected to be picked in the mid-rounds before his announcement.
Sam was accepted in the Missouri locker room, by all accounts. But Lynch also knows there will remain questions whether the same can happen on the NFL level.
“The fact he came out to his team in the summer, and the fact it wasn’t a distraction for them, and the fact they still had a lot of success, I think that’s a good kind of test run for him,” Lynch said. “He can tell a scout, 'Hey I came out to my teammates, it wasn’t a distraction. Most of the Missouri community knew about it, yet we still had the best season in half a decade.' ”
Playing against Sam and watching him on film, Lynch was impressed.
“I can imagine he’s a weight-room freak," Lynch said. "I mean he’s strong, he’s about 6-2, they say he weighs 260 and he looks every bit of it. He’s definitely a guy who passes the eye test. From the point of attack, he’s strong, he’s quick, he lives for third-and-8, for third-and-long, because he looks to go rush the passer. For me it was definitely a challenge. Coach would always say, ‘Hey this is gonna be a big week for the tight ends.’ Games like Florida, South Carolina, there was no doubt that playing against Missouri was that type of game. It didn’t surprise me when he was All-American.”
Lynch, a native of Massachusetts, has spoken before about his support for gay marriage, and Sunday evening he re-tweeted messages of support for Sam. Lynch called Sam’s announcement “a really big step” for the gay community in general.
Should Sam be drafted and play in an NFL game, he won’t be the first gay person to play in the league. Plenty have come out after their careers. And Sam almost certainly wouldn’t be the only current gay player, just the only publicly gay one.
At a minimum, however, Sam would be a trailblazer, the first openly gay player to be drafted by one of the four major American sports leagues. And Lynch thinks Sam did the right thing by coming out now.
“I don’t think someone with that much importance in life who can impact that many in a positive way, so many people around you, I don’t think that you should keep it a secret,” Lynch said. “The fact he came out now instead of after 12 years in the NFL, I think that’s a cool thing. There’s gonna be a lot of people who have different opinions from me and say I’m wrong. When you live in a free country, you can afford to have different opinions, you know? But I just hope for him he can complete his dream of playing in the NFL.”