“I am an openly, proud gay man,” he said.
Sam, a 6-foot-2, 260-pound senior, completed a stellar season for Missouri, which finished 12-2 and won the Cotton Bowl. He was named a first-team all-American. He was the defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference, widely considered the top league in college football. Teammates voted him Missouri’s most valuable player.
His decision to go public about his sexual orientation comes less than two weeks before the NFL Draft Combine in Indianapolis, an event where draft prospects show off their skills and are tested by the 32 NFL teams.
Sam, the Associated Press’ SEC Defensive Player of the Year, is projected to be chosen in the early rounds of the draft in May, and could become the first openly NFL player. He said he decided to come out publicly now because he sensed that rumors were circulating.
“It’s a big deal. No one has done this before,” he said. “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.”
Watch an excerpt from The New York Times interview here:
Sam, originally from Hitchcock, Texas, said he understands that his life is about to change forever, but that he is happy and proud to be speaking out at last.
He said he told his mother and father last week, “and they just pretty much said, ‘We knew and we love you and support you,'”
“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.”
“Michael has shown great courage in taking this step and not only do we support him, we are incredibly grateful,” said Super Bowl champion and human rights activist Brendon Ayanbadejo, a member of the Athlete Ally Board of Directors, in a statement.
Article continues below“His decision to welcome us all into his world as he embarks upon a professional NFL career is an honorable one. This moment will resonate in a unique and important way for countless people, particularly LGBT youth,” said Ayanbadejo.
“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.”