NFL Draft Candidate Michael Sam: 'I'm Gay'

News & Views | Bené Viera | 02/10/2014 | 09:44 AM EST

If drafted, Missouri Tigers player may become NFL's first openly gay player

America’s first openly gay NFL player could be on the horizon. Michael Sam, an all-American defensive lineman from Missouri told ESPN he is gay.

Sam has a bright future ahead of him as the Associated Press’ SEC Defensive Player of the Year. He’s eligible for the NFL draft in May, and if drafted he could become the NFL’s first openly gay player. On Sunday he revealed to ESPN’s “Outside of the Lines” that he told his teammates and coaches that he was gay back in August.

“They supported me from day one,” he said of his teammates and coaches. “I couldn't have better teammates. ... I'm telling you what: I wouldn't have the strength to do this today if I didn't know how much support they'd given me this past semester."

In the interview Sam says, “I’m an openly, proud gay man.” His reason to speak out about it now is that he realized a lot more people knew he was gay then he thought.

"I didn't realize how many people actually knew, and I was afraid that someone would tell or leak something out about me," he said. "I want to own my truth. ... No one else should tell my story but me."

Sam said with the rough childhood he had coming out as gay was nothing in comparison to seeing his older brother killed, having a another brother go missing in 1998 (him and his sister were the last people to see him) and two of his other brothers are currently in jail.

"Telling the world I'm gay is nothing compared to that."

Both the NFL and his coach released statements in their support of Sam admiring him for his courage. Jason Collins, a 12-year NBA veteran who announced he was gay in a Sports Illustrated story in 2013, also tweeted his support.

“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.

Sam told his parents in a phone call last week, and they basically told him they already knew. His parents said they love and support him. He’s the first to go to college, the first to graduate college and as he sees it this is just another milestone for them.

Sam is taking it all in stride. He says he knows there will be negative comments, but the positive will outweigh the good.

"I'm not afraid to tell the world who I am. I'm Michael Sam: I'm a college graduate. I'm African American, and I'm gay," he said. "I'm comfortable in my skin."

(Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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