Falcons' Weatherspoon supports Sam

April, 2, 2014
Apr 2
7:00
AM ET
Many have voiced support for Michael Sam as he aspires to be the first openly gay player in the NFL. Add Atlanta Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon to his list of supporters.

Weatherspoon was a senior at Missouri in 2009 when Sam was a redshirt freshman.

"I was happy Mike was able to come out and be himself," Weatherspoon said Monday, his first public comments about his former college teammate. "I think the thing right now is that he would rather focus on football. But it's kind of tough, with everybody just wanting to talk about the potential of a gay player being in the locker room. To me, it's not a problem. I've already been in the locker room with Michael. Guys didn't talk about it, but we all kind of knew."

Sam publicly acknowledged his sexuality in February. Several months earlier, before the 2013 college football season, he came out to his Missouri teammates. Weatherspoon, who remains close to the Missouri program and attends Tigers game when possible, knew about that meeting.

“In training camp is when they talked about it,” Weatherspoon said. “And that's when I knew about [Sam's sexuality], because I have young little brothers still there.”

The Missouri players kept word of Sam's announcement inside the program, respecting their teammate's decision to come out publicly on his own terms.

“That's just how we are out there," Weatherspoon said of the tight bond between members of the program. "It's really a different place. ... That support is there. The coaches do a good job of attracting guys that are about family. And you get that family feel. Like people say, 'Family is everything.' Even though it's an extended family, it's still our family.”

The next phase for Sam is proving to NFL personnel that he's more than a "tweener" and is capable of making plays as a pass rusher in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defensive scheme. He wasn't overly impressive at the NFL combine, although he did improve his numbers during Missouri's pro day. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay initially gave Sam a fourth-round grade.

"For right now, my advice to Mike is just to make sure you stay in shape because at the end of the day, it doesn't matter who you date," Weatherspoon said. "It's all about what you do on Sundays. That's going to determine how long you play here. The main thing is football.

"We are in a time where the locker room has not matured yet. But Mike, he's a guy with a great sense of humor. I think after a while, it won't be a big deal at all. Hopefully it's not going to be a big deal to the team he goes to."

Vaughn McClure

ESPN Atlanta Falcons reporter

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