By DEAN SCHABNER
Michael Sam, a University of Missouri all America defensive lineman expected to be drafted into the NFL, today told ESPN's Chris Connelly that he is gay.
"I came to tell the world that I'm an openly, proud gay man," Sam said today in interviews with ESPN's "Outside the Lines" and the New York Times.
If he is drafted -- and he was expected to be -- he would be the first openly gay player in the NFL.
Though he said he had previously told his teammates on the Tigers, he wanted to control the way the story was spread.
"I want to own my truth," he told Connelly. "Two weeks ago at The Senior Bowl I didn't realize how many people actually knew, and I was afraid that someone would tell or leak something out about me or tell a story. I just wanted to control the situation and tell my story."
He said that though he was nervous about doing it, it also felt good.
"It's a load off my chest," he said. "I told my teammates this past August that I came out to my teammates, and they took it great. They rallied around me, they supported me, and I couldn't have asked for better teammates."
Sam, a unanimous All-America pick, led the SEC with 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for a loss. He is projected to be drafted as high as the third round, and he is rated by ESPN Scouts Inc. as the 12th-best outside pass rusher in the draft.
He seemed to recognize that his announcement could have an effect on his prospects, but expressed the hope that teams will look beyond the issue of his sexuality.
He said he hopes "That they see not just a gay athlete, but they can see an athlete who knows how to play the game."
"I was first team unanimous All American, I was SEC Defensive Player of the Year," he told Connelly. "I know how to play this game, Chris."
In the first hour since he came out, Sam gained 18,165 followers on Twitter. His first tweet after the announcement came tonight at 8:02 p.m. ET.
The NFL also issued a statement in support of Sam.
"We admire Michael Sam's honesty and courage," the NFL said in 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."
But some NFL coaches and executives who spoke to Sports Illustrated after the announcement said they thought Sam's draft stock would be hurt by the news.
"I don't think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet," said an NFL player personnel assistant. "In the coming decade or two, it's going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it's still a man's-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It'd chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room."
There have been several NFL players who came out, but only after their careers were over.
Basketball player Jason Collins revealed his homosexuality in an article published on Sports Illustrated's website in April. The former Washington Wizards center was a free agent at the time, and has not been signed by any NBA team this year.
Major League Soccer star and U.S. national team player Robbie Rogers also came out a year ago.