So a watershed cultural moment approaches, one that was hailed, prematurely, last April, when NBA journeyman Jason Collins revealed his sexual identity. But Collins' season was over when he came out, he was a free agent, and now Collins is 35 and unsigned. Though he was hailed as major pro sports' first active openly gay athlete, he hasn't played in an NBA game, hasn't entered an NBA locker room as an openly gay athlete, and it's starting to look like he won't - not because of prejudice, but because he waited so long to tell us.
Sam will begin his NFL career as an openly gay player. He will sit in front of about a bazillion journalists later this month in Indianapolis as the openly gay guy at the NFL Scouting Combine. This is something really new.
Sam reasoned that it was better to let the teams know now, to be sure the team that drafted him knew what it was getting.
"I just want to go to the team who drafts me because that team knows about me, knows that I'm gay, and also knows that I work hard. That's the team I want to go to," Sam told ESPN.
This announcement is the kind of big deal that makes it possible for future such announcements to be less of a big deal, if that makes any sense. It wouldn't be a shock if other pro athletes made similar announcements, if not right away, then after Sam has been welcomed to a team and played in the NFL without incident, assuming that is what happens.
Rest assured, the NFL is going to do everything it can to make sure that's what happens.
"We admire Michael Sam's honesty and courage," NFL senior vice president of communications Greg Aiello said in the league's statement. "Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014."
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel also released a statement, that said in part: "We're really happy for Michael that he's made the decision to announce this, and we're proud of him and how he represents Mizzou."
It's probably a bigger deal to people like me - I'm turning 58 soon - than it is to people half my age. I graduated from college in 1978. It's unimaginable that there would have been somebody in the 1978 NFL draft who announced he was gay - though there certainly were gay players in the league back then, including star Redskins receiver Jerry Smith, whose secret reportedly was well-known by a number of teammates.
To someone who graduated from college in 1978, maybe the most remarkable part of the Sam interviews yesterday was that all of his college teammates knew, for an entire season, and this not only was not a problem, it didn't ever even become public - though Sam told the New York Times that NFL team personnel at the Senior Bowl last month asked his agent, Joe Barkett, if Sam had a girlfriend, and if Barkett had ever seen him with women.
And there is that. Before we get too Kumbaya-misty-eyed here, it's safe to predict that not everybody in the NFL is going to think this is the most wonderful thing that ever happened. One of the reasons Sam did what he did yesterday, he said, was that he wanted to "own my own truth," to tell the story himself, instead of having it "revealed" somehow.
As the possibility of something like this happening has been discussed over the past few years, there have been players who have said they wouldn't want a gay teammate. Former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe wrote recently that he was subjected to homophobic language from a coach and ultimately lost his job because of his vocal support of same-sex marriage.
But the sense is that such people are very much in the minority now, that it's hard to find anyone in an NFL locker room who doesn't have a gay brother [Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin does], cousin, friend, whatever. As journalists chronicle every step Sam takes toward making history, the teammates who aren't comfortable with him probably will be outnumbered by the teammates who can't understand why everybody is making such a big deal out of it.
"I endured so much in my past: seeing my older brother killed from a gunshot wound, not knowing that my oldest sister died when she was a baby and I never got the chance to meet her," Sam told ESPN. "My second-oldest brother went missing in 1998, and me and my little sister were the last ones to see him . . . my other two brothers have been in and out of jail since eighth grade, currently both in jail.
"Telling the world I'm gay is nothing compared to that."
On Twitter: @LesBowen