Missouri coach Gary Pinkel had a lot to be proud of the past year. His team managed to win the SEC’s Eastern Division after being picked to finish fifth at last year’s SEC Media Days. The Tigers won 12 games and capped the year with a dominating win over Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.
But none of that topped Pinkel’s list of personal accomplishments. That came later, when defensive end Michael Sam revealed his sexual orientation before the NFL draft and told the story of how he had that fact had been known, accepted, protected and embraced in Columbia by his coach and teammates.
“From my standpoint, I’m proud of our football program, our athletic department, our infrastructure,” said Pinkel, who is entering his 14th season as Missouri’s head coach. “I think we talk about respect all the time for people. So I thought that and a number of things that we do internally with our athletic department and football, gave us an opportunity to be able to handle something like that, maybe different than somebody else would have been able to handle us.”
Sam, an All-SEC defensive end for the Tigers, publicly announced that he was gay on a Sunday night in early February. The next morning, Pinkel was a guest on ESPN’s Mike & Mike.
“When I did that interview, I knew that interview was going to be different than any interview I’d ever done before,” Pinkel said at SEC Media Days on Wednesday. “It was going to be much bigger than football or Mizzou. The societal influence. This is really important in terms of that.”
The St. Louis Rams made Sam the 249th pick of the 2014 NFL Draft in May.
“I’m very proud of Michael,” senior defensive end Markus Golden said Wednesday. “In my three years at Mizzou I’ve always believed him to be a hard worker and you always want to see guys like that be successful in the NFL. I’m happy for him and I hope things continue to get better for him.”
Said Pinkel: “I’m very proud of everybody, how we handled it. I hope five years from now, you know, there’s no discussions about this, that we’ve moved on, that we respect people for what they are and what they do.”
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