A season of significance at Missouri

Some of those words, even Sam's closest friends concede, are hard to stamp out because they're deeply embedded in locker-room culture.

Waters estimates that roughly 5 to 10 percent of the team was slow to come around to Sam.

"There were hurtful things that were said at the very beginning," he said. "But you have to think about it. On a football team, there are various ages ranging from 17-year-olds all the way to 24-year-olds. Some kids haven't matured; some guys haven't learned. There's more cultural differences in one small locker room. Some guys don't know how to handle situations like that.

"Once that stuff came out, people automatically turned on him. Some people turned on him as they smiled in his face."

But eventually, the team grew closer, and came together. That, he said, is one of the biggest success stories of 2013. Just watch the film clips that are currently playing in a loop during all the coverage on Sam, he said. They show Sam making big plays. And after every one of them, his teammates surround him with hugs and pats on the head.

"It wasn't about, 'Oh, I don't want to touch him, he's gay,'" Waters said. "It didn't matter to us. It was all about celebration with our team. With our family."

On Sunday night, Foster sat in a house on Lubbock Court, another street named after one of the old Big 12 haunts. He said in Columbia, there's just one city that isn't mentioned in a street: Lawrence, for obvious reasons. Earlier in the day, Sam texted Foster and told him to watch ESPN around 7 o'clock, when his announcement would air. So Foster tuned in on a large, outdated TV in a home full of college football souvenirs and broken furniture. He noticed that Sam looked a little nervous. He couldn't blame him. In some ways, he didn't understand why Sam was coming out now, before the NFL combine and the draft, when he might have a lot to lose.

But Foster knows that Sam's agents and advisors are much more versed on this than he is. This is all new for Foster. He said he's never had a gay teammate, at least one that he's known of. He's an enlightened man, a native of Fort Worth, Texas, and a member of the SEC academic honor roll. He rolls his eyes when people ask him if guys were ever nervous about taking showers in front of Sam, like all of a sudden a man is going to change after four years in that same locker room.

Foster says none of this should be an issue for anyone comfortable with their own sexuality. But he's realistic. If the tables were turned and he was gay and on TV making the same announcement, he could probably choreograph the reactions from back home in Texas.

"If I were to do what he did, my dad would probably be up here in a minute," he said. "My daddy would not play that. Man, he'd ... I don't know. He wouldn't be happy. My mom would probably be disappointed, but she was a single mother, an African-American woman, and she had three things against her. She's been discriminated against before. I can't put it on the same field as race and sexuality, but if I were to just excommunicate this guy because he's gay ... I'm being a discriminatory person.

"That's just not what my family is about. My mom raised me to be kind and caring to everybody."

Unlike Sam, Foster won't play football again. But one day perhaps he'll tell his kids and grandkids about the 2013 season, and how 127 men came together and came close to playing for a national championship. It wasn't perfect. But it was historic. And now everything for his friend is about to change. Here, in this college town in Middle America, things were simple. There, in the NFL, it will be a circus.

"You think so?" Foster said.

"I don't know."

-- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 22490636. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 22490636.
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
  • |
  • 4
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...