An All-American defensive lineman from the University of Missouri, Sam was also named the South Eastern Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. He is expected to be a mid-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft, which means he could become the first active player in either the NBA (basketball), NHL (ice hockey), MLB (baseball) or the NFL to have declared their sexuality during their playing career.
In interviews with ESPN and The New York Times earlier this week, Sam said his college team and coaches were already aware of his sexuality but he made the decision to go public after an experience at the Senior Bowl match a fortnight ago.
“I didn’t realise how many people actually knew, and I was afraid that someone would tell or leak something out about me,” Sam said.
“I want to own my truth… No one else should tell my story but me.”
The NFL has also released a statement supporting Sam.
“We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in the statement.
“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.”
Among others to congratulate Sam was basketballer Jason Collins, who publicly came out as gay at the end of the 2012-13 NBA season but has not played for a team since.
Sam said he had no preference on which team should take him in May’s draft.
“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,” he said.
“That’s the team I want to go to.”