COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH) - A group that advocates for civil rights for all is applauding a former University of Missouri football player's decision to announce that he is gay and hopes it leads to progress in South Carolina.
On Monday, the executive director of SC Equality, Ryan Wilson, commended Sam for "his courage" and hopes it will lead other athletes in similar situations to follow the player's lead.
SC Equality fight for equal rights for the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender community.
"Players should be judged on their skills and if they can win, not on who they are or whom they love," said Wilson. "Being able to be open and honest about who they are allows them to focus on the goal of winning and less on fearing being outed."
The "You Can Play Project" is an initiative aimed at creating a more comfortable atmosphere for athletes to share their true sexual identities without fear of persecution.
The University of Missouri recently joined the effort to support "equal treatment for all athletes," which is part of the project's mission statement.
The project's website says "locker rooms should be safe and sports venues should be free from homophobia. Athletes should be judged on talent, heart and work ethic, not sexual orientation."
The 255-pound Sam was the SEC leader in quarterback sacks (11.5) sacks and tackles for loss (19).
On Monday, first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden also applauded Sam's move, portraying him as a courageous and inspirational athlete.
Biden and the first lady took to Twitter on Monday to comment on Michael Sam, the all-American college player who declared publicly on Sunday that he is gay. Mrs. Obama says she "couldn't be prouder" of Sam's courage, both on and off the field.
The tweet was signed "-mo," which is how the White House marks messages personally sent by the first lady.
"Your courage is an inspiration to all of us," Biden said. The message was signed "-VP," which designates that the vice president personally sent it.
Sam could become the first openly homosexual player in the NFL. He's scheduled to participate in the league's weeklong scouting camp, where potential draftees are evaluated, later this month in Indianapolis.
In interviews with ESPN, The New York Times and Outsports, Sam says he came out to his teammates and coaches at Missouri in August.
His former coach, Gary Pinkel addressed that situation on Monday.
"I think overall it was remarkably positive, I thought they embraced him," said Pinkel. "I'm also not naive enough to think you've got 127 players and they've all got ideas and thoughts and opinions on all kinds of social issues and I think some of the players might not agree and they have their own opinion on it."
Sam, an All-American, is currently projected to be a mid-round draft pick in May.