Michael Sam, the Missouri Tigers' All-American defensive lineman, hopes to become the first openly gay player
in the NFL.
In recent interviews with ESPN, The New York Times, and Outsports, Sam said he "came out of the closet" to his teammates and coaches at Missouri in August.
"I am an openly, proud gay man," the 24-year-old from Galveston, TX, told ESPN
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"I understand how big this is," Sam continued. "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."
The 6-foot-2, 255-pound college lineman, who had a stellar 2013 being named a first-team all-American and an SEC co-defensive player of the year, is projected to be a mid-round NFL draft pick this year, according to Fox Sports
"I didn't realize how many people actually knew, and I was afraid that someone would tell or leak something out about me," Sam added explaining why he came out when he did. "I want to own my truth. ... No one else should tell my story but me."
Immediately after Sam's coming out with various media outlets over the weekend, the college player's coaches and others expressed their support for his announcement.
"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 head 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."
The National Football League also released a statement.
"We admire Michael Sam's honesty and courage," the statement read. "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."
Gay athletes in professional sports have garnered significant attention since Jason Collins, a former NBA player with the Washington Wizards, came out last April
Following Sam's announcement, Collins offered his support to the fellow gay athlete via Twitter.
At around the same time of Collins' announcement, both the NFL and National Hockey League (NHL) announced they were partnering with a group advocating acceptance of openly gay players
to assist gay athletes with the coming out process.
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In his interview with ESPN, Sam said that he knew from a very early age that he was a homosexual.
"I knew from a young age that I was attracted to guys," Sam said, "I didn't know if it was a phase ... I didn't want to say, 'Hey, I might be gay. I might be bi.' I just didn't know ... I wanted to find who I was and make sure I knew what was comfortable. So I didn't tell anyone growing up."
Having suffered several hardships as a youth, including the loss of his older brother, who was shot to death, and sister who reportedly died shortly after she was born, Sam added that the process of admitting who he was to the world was not that difficult in comparison.
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