One giant leap forward for football! College football star Michael Sam came out as gay Sunday, Feb. 9, which could make him the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL.
"I came to tell the world, I am an openly proud gay man," Sam, 24, announced in interviews with ESPN and the New York Times. "I understand how big this is," the All-American defensive lineman told Chris Connelly on ESPN's Outside the Lines. "It's a big deal. No one has done this before and it's kind of a nervous process," he confessed. "But I know what I want to be… I want to be a football player in the NFL."
The SEC defensive player of the year said his teammates and coaches from Mizzou (University of Missouri) have known he was gay since August. Sam, who was named Mizzou's MVP by his teammates, tweeted Sunday, "Wouldn't be anywhere without the support of my teammates and #mizzounation."
In return, Sam has received messages of support from players and fans. "Dare to be different and stand for what you believe in! Congrats to my brother @MikeSamFootball," Mizzou wide receiver L'Damian Washington shared via Twitter Sunday night.
NBA player Jason Collins, the first openly gay male in a professional sports league, shared Sunday night that he had met with Sam ahead of the announcement: "For the past 2 days I have met with @MikeSamFootball here in LA. He is a great young man who has shown tremendous courage and leadership," Collins tweeted.
The National Football League has a reputation for being one of the toughest professional sports leagues for openly gay players to be drafted into. With close to 1,600 players under its umbrella, the NFL has never had an openly gay player active under its teams' rosters. Sam's statements also come off the heels of several controversies involving homophobia and the NFL. In a now-viral post, former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe wrote a first person account for Deadspin back in January after he was allegedly fired for publicly supporting same-sex marriage. (Kluwe wrote an equally viral missive declaring his support for the LGBT community back in April 2013.)
The league, however, shared the following statement Sunday night via Twitter: "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 NFL draft will begin Thursday, May 8 and ends May 10.