Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, who was named an All-American and the Associated Press’ SEC Defensive Player of the Year as a redshirt senior last season, told ESPN’s "Outside The Lines" and the New York Times that he is openly gay.
Sam is eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft and, if he is drafted, could become the first-ever openly gay NFL player on an active roster.
"I am an openly, proud gay man," Sam said. "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."
Sam said his Missouri teammates and coaches have known since August. He came out to his parents just last week.
Sam recently participated in the Senior Bowl, an event for draft prospects in Mobile, Ala., where he said many people already seemed aware of his sexual orientation. He is telling his story now in order to avoid someone else leaking the information.
"I want to own my truth. … No one else should tell my story but me," he said.
Numerous Missouri players and coaches voiced their support for Sam via Twitter on Sunday night, including head coach Gary Pinkel and receiver L’Damian Washington, who Sam thanked personally for his help.
"Dare to be different and stand for what you believe in!" Washington tweeted. "Congrats to my brother."
"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," 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."
Added Missouri athletic director Mike Alden: "We are so proud of Michael for what he has accomplished at Mizzou academically, socially and competitively. This is a young man who earned his degree from MU, was a unanimous All-American on the football field and now he’s being a leader in his personal life. He continues to display great character, courage and compassion. We are proud of him on every level."
Sam is coming off a dominant campaign for one of the best teams in country — Missouri finished ranked 5th in the AP Poll — where he registered an SEC-best 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. He is rated as one of the 15 best pass rushers available on most mock draft boards. Assuming he is entering into a league where this type of announcement is unprecedented, Sam said he understands the variety of reactions he will receive.
"There will be negativity, negative reactions," he said. "I just want to go to the team who drafts me, because that team knows about me, knows that I’m gay, and also knows that I work hard. That’s the team I want to go to."
There have been more and more public comments supporting the gay community from NFL players, most notably from former Viking punter Chris Kluwe, who is threatening a lawsuit against the Minnesota franchise for wrongful termination due to his outspokeness on gay rights, and former Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo.
Still, Sam’s announcement and his expected entrance into the most profitable and powerful sports league in the country is a watershed moment. Ayanbadejo claimed last April that up to four NFL players were considering coming out publicly for the first time.
The Hitckcock, Texas, native told both publications that he is not concerned with any negative comments or backlash, nor the negative stereotypes that may accompany his sexual orientation. And he says he understands just how big the moment truly is — and could be.
"I’m not afraid to tell the world who I am," he said. "I’m Michael Sam: I’m a college graduate. I’m African American, and I’m gay. I’m comfortable in my skin.