UNH Coach McDonnell praises Missouri player’s courage
Sean McDonnell, the head football coach at the University of New Hampshire, praised former Missouri football star Michael Sam, who is expected to be the first openly gay athlete to compete in a major league team sport.
“You take a step back and think of courage,” said McDonnell, reached by phone last night in Durham. “Here’s a young man who has the courage to tell people who he is, and I think that is a tremendous gift that someone can possess.”
Sam, a 6-foot-2, 260-pound defensive lineman at Missouri last season, told the New York Times and ESPN on Sunday that he is gay, adding that he confided in teammates about his sexuality last August, shortly before the season started.
Missouri finished the season with a 12-2 record and won the Cotton Bowl, a high-profile postseason game.
NFL scouts have projected Sam to be an early-round draft choice in May. Several professional players have come out publicly in recent years, but only after retirement, including NBA player John Amaechi in 2007.
Jason Collins, a 12-year NBA veteran, acknowledged he was gay last spring, but he waited until after the season and has not signed another contract since going public.
McDonnell has lifted UNH to national prominence during his 15-year career, leading the Wildcats to 10 straight appearances in the national tournament.
He credited the overall culture at Missouri for helping Sam.
“I think he probably felt very comfortable with the people surrounding him,” McDonnell said. “The biggest thing is there is a young man who had others, coaches and administrators, who understood and were accepting, and knew this didn’t change who he was and what he did.”
McDonnell added that all departments at UNH remind students to be sensitive toward others.
“We talk about words that are offensive, language that is offensive, and how things could affect people,” McDonnell said. “Our kids listen, and I think 90 or 95 percent of them learn and understand it.”
Asked if a player had ever come out to McDonnell, the coach said, “No one has ever come forward.”