When former NFL player and The Bachelor alum Colton Underwood recently revealed he's gay, one of the first people he contacted was Michael Sam. The pair shared much in common. Both played defensive end in college, both were part of the 2014 NFL draft class, and both were signed to NFL teams straight out of college. The two men were also both gay. Where they differed, though, was that while Sam became the first out active NFL player in the history of the league, Underwood stayed in the closet. And that difference was the reason Underwood reached out to Sam.
“I had the opportunity in 2014 when I entered the draft. Michael Sam came out,” Underwood told Variety, choking up momentarily at the thought. Instead, he stayed squarely in the closet even if his heart wanted to join Sam, which would have made them the first two out active players in the league.
Both players had landed spots on NFL teams, Sam going to the Rams in the final round of that year’s draft while Underwood signed as an unrestricted free agent with the San Diego Chargers after going unpicked in the draft. Neither player advanced in the league beyond preseason or landing on a practice squad, but Underwood told Variety he stayed around long enough to know that Sam’s coming-out him made him the subject of derision and homophobic abuse in the league’s locker rooms.
Sam eventually retired from professional football in 2015, citing mental health reasons. Underwood played on practice squads for the Chargers, Eagles, and Raiders from 2014 to 2016, retiring following his release from the Raiders. He revealed to Variety that he told Sam he wished he had the courage to join him in coming out at the time and regretted the missed opportunity.
“I’ve had a conversation with Michael about this, since I came out. I just sort of had a heart-to-heart with him,” Underwood said. “I said, ‘I just want to let you know that you should have given me the confidence to stand up and say, ‘You’re not alone.’ But unfortunately, I went to a different locker room. And I told him, ‘In the locker room that I was in, they didn’t say nice things about you.’”
“I was like, ‘I’m sorry because I could have tried to help you by coming out with you, and then seen if that caused another to come out,’” an emotional Underwood recalled. “But I didn’t have the courage and I wasn’t at a point in my life where I was ready to come out — if anything, Michael Sam coming out and being so public about it put me in the closet even further because I didn’t want to be like Michael, in the sense that I didn’t want it to be negative or bad.”
Underwood revealed he is now focused on the future and a family, something he never thought possible until he accepted his sexuality.
“I want a partner and a husband more than anything, and I want a family,” Underwood gushed. “I want kids, I want dogs, I want the whole nine yards, and I never knew that was possible until I came out and got to lean into my truth.”