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FILE - In this June 30, 2013 file photo, former NFL football player Wade Davis, grand marshal for the Chicago Gay Pride Parade, speaks to reporters prior to the parade in Chicago. One of the people enlisted to help advise All-American defensive end Michael Sam of Missouri before publicly announcing he was gay was Davis, a former NFL player who came out in 2012 - nine years after retiring. (AP Photo/Scott Eisen)
New sports playbook: How to come out as gay
First Published May 05 2014 09:36 am • Last Updated May 09 2014 11:56 pm

New York • A new type of playbook is fast evolving in the world of sports: An informal, commonsense protocol for how prominent gay and lesbian athletes can come out with maximum acclaim and minimum turmoil.

Key decisions include how to reveal one’s story, whom to tell it to and — crucially — when to tell it.

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"The earlier in the offseason, the better," said Cyd Zeigler, a co-founder of the website Outsports, the platform of choice for many athletes to share their coming-out story.

"Minimizing the distraction to your teammates is super important," Zeigler said. "I recommend to everyone, ‘Don’t do it in the middle in the season.’"

Jason Collins used an April 2013 column in Sports Illustrated to become the first openly gay player in the NBA. He’s now a reserve with the Brooklyn Nets.

In February, Missouri defensive end Michael Sam came out via coordinated coverage by ESPN, The New York Times and Outsports. Sam is projected as a middle-round prospect in the NFL draft this week, which would put him on track to be the league’s first openly gay player.

On April 9, University of Massachusetts guard Derrick Gordon became the first openly gay player in Division I men’s basketball, making the announcement on ESPN and Outsports two days after the NCAA championship game.

The logistics of Sam coming out were coordinated by Howard Bragman, a public relations expert who is vice chairman of Reputation.com, which helps clients manage their online images.

Bragman has been ushering celebrities out of the closet since 1991, when he helped actor Dick Sargent of the TV series "Bewitched." The first gay athlete he worked with was Esera Tuaolo, who came out in 2002 after nine years as a defensive tackle in the NFL. Other clients included golfer Rosie Jones in 2004 and pro basketball star Sheryl Swoopes in 2005.

One of the biggest changes during his career, Bragman said, is the attitude of young Americans.

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"This younger generation — the ‘Will and Grace’ generation — is comfortable about having gay friends," he said. "Kids are coming out in junior high, high school."

Bragman offers advice for athletes considering coming out:

—Break the news before anyone else does, and don’t feel obligated to repeat your story. Choose wisely how you tell it and whom you tell it to, because the first stories will define the narrative.

—Anticipate tough questions and answer them in a truthful yet consistent, controlled way.

—Define yourself in well-rounded terms, to make clear that being gay is only one facet of who you are.

—Get back to work.

In a column on his LinkedIn page, Bragman said it was crucial that Sam chose to come out before the NFL draft.

"Had he come out after, he would have faced criticism for not telling the truth," Bragman wrote. "He not only owned his truth, he put it in perspective and got great respect for his integrity along the way."

One of the people enlisted to help advise Sam before his disclosure was Wade Davis, a former NFL Europe player who came out in 2012 — nine years after retiring. Davis is now executive director of the You Can Play Project, which seeks to increase acceptance of gay athletes in sports.

His paramount advice to Sam was to stay focused on football.

"The NFL doesn’t want any player who’s looking to get famous off of something other than being an athlete," Davis said.

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