Missouri All-American defensive end Michael Sam revealed to the New York Times that he is gay, and he hopes to become the first openly gay NFL player.
Sam spoke with both the New York Times and ESPN, telling both outlets he came out privately to his team prior to his senior season during a team-building exercise. Sam said his teammates and coaching staff were incredibly supportive, and this past season Sam tallied 48 tackles, 11.5 sacks and two forced fumbles for a Tigers that finished 12-2 and won the Cotton Bowl. Sam was voted most valuable player by his teammates in addition to his first-team All-American status and All-SEC first-team selection.
“I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” Sam told the New York Times. “I just want to own my truth.”
The news comes at an important time for Sam, who is projected as a mid-to-late-round prospect in May's NFL Draft. The 6-foot-2, 260-pound defensive end is expected to participate in February's Combine, where he'll be put through a number of physical and mental tests and interviews.
Sunday the NFL issued an official statement, offering support and admiration for Sam's decision, saying, "We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage. 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.”
That same support and admiration was expressed by many on social media, including Bears tight end Martellus Bennett, who tweeted "One day it won't be such a huge ordeal to state who you are as a person, that day will reveal true progression. Cheers to Day 1."
[BEARS -- 2014 outlook: Defensive Backs]
Sam would become the first openly gay NFL player. Last spring 12-year NBA veteran Jason Collins came out, though he was not signed last offseason. In 2007, former NBA center John Amaechi revealed he was gay, and soccer player Robbie Rogers, who was traded from the Chicago Fire to the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2013, became the first active openly gay athlete in North American professional sports.
The challenge of earning an NFL Draft selection is steep enough, and he will now have an even larger spotlight on him as he prepares to fulfill his ultimate goal of playing on Sundays.
“I’m not naïve,” Sam told the New York Times. “I know this is a huge deal and I know how important this is. But my role as of right now is to train for the combine and play in the NFL.”