Missouri All-American defensive end Michael Sam came out as gay in an interview with ESPN's "Outside the Lines" and The New York Times on Sunday. Sam is considered to be a third or fourth round pick in this year's NFL draft and could become the first ever openly gay player in the history of the NFL.
A 6-foot-2, 255-pound force on the field, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year was not shy in telling ESPN's Chris Connelly that "I am an openly, proud gay man."
This is the first time that Sam has spoken publicly about his sexual orientation, but added that he told his Missouri teammates back in August. "I used that opportunity just to tell them that I was gay. And their reaction was like, 'Michael Sam finally told us.'"
This follows a recent trend of athletes coming out of the closet. Last year, former US national team soccer player Robbie Rogers announced he was gay and promptly retired, later returning to join the LA Galaxy in Major League Soccer after encouragement from fans and teammates. Free agent NBA center Jason Collins, largely a reserve player, came out over the summer, but remains unsigned despite stating his intention to continue playing. Just this December, British Olympic diver Tom Daley announced he has a boyfriend in a YouTube video.
Now what makes Sam's case so intriguing is his timing. With the NFL draft three months away, many people are now wondering whether or not this announcement will negatively affect his draft stock. A versatile defensive end with lightning speed, he has the tools to become a solid football player for any team, and that's all he wants. "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."
The NFL wasted no time in showing its support for Sam, releasing a statement of its own. "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."
The former Tiger just capped off an impressive season, racking up 11.5 sacks and guiding Missouri to a 12-2 overall record in only its second season in the SEC, widely considered the top conference in America.