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COLUMBIA, Mo. — Michael Sam was the loud country boy who wore a tank top and a cowboy hat. He was the smooth-singing baritone who could irritate his coaches and crack up his teammates with his improvised songs. He was one of the best players to come out of tiny Hitchcock, Tex., where his family was well known for all the wrong reasons.
He was an all-American and defensive terror on the football field. He was a regular at the gay club, where the bartenders knew him by name. Sam introduced himself to the world Sunday night as a National Football League prospect who happens to be gay.
Now he is poised to become a trailblazer in a violent and macho world that will scrutinize his every action and turn his private life into a very public debate.
But Sam has never had it easy. He grew up about 40 miles southeast of Houston near Galveston Bay in Texas, the seventh of eight children. Three of his siblings have died and two brothers are in prison. He lived briefly in the back seat of his mother’s car, and his relationship with his family remains complicated: When he visits home, he usually stays with friends.