University of Missouri football player Michael Sam has publicly come out as gay, potentially making him the first openly gay active NFL player should he be drafted.
In an interview with ESPN, the All-American defensive lineman says his teammates and coach have known of his sexual orientation since August.
"They took it great," the 24-year-old says. "They rallied around me, they supported me and I couldn't ask for better teammates."
Sam says he came out prior to the draft in May to address the rumors circulating. "I didn't realize how many people actually knew, and I was afraid that someone would tell or leak something out about me," he says. "I want to own my truth. ... No one else should tell my story but me."
Reflecting on his groundbreaking statement, Sam says, "I understand how big this is. It's a big deal. No one has done this before. And it's kind of a nervous process, but I know what I want to be. ... I want to be a football player in the NFL."
Following Sam's interview, Greg Aiello, the NFL's senior vice president of communications, said in a statement: "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."
Sam's announcement follows that of NBA veteran Jason Collins, whocame out in April, making him the first male athlete to come out while being active in a major professional sport. Last month, Conner Mertens, a kicker for Willamette University, became the first active college football player in the U.S. to come out publicly.
"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," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said in a statement. "Michael is a great example of just how important it is to be respectful of others, he's taught a lot of people here first-hand that it doesn't matter what your background is, or your personal orientation, we're all on the same team and we all support each other."
What do you think of Sam's decision to come out?