(NEW YORK) -- Michael Sam, a University of Missouri all America defensive lineman expected to be drafted into the NFL, told ESPN's Chris Connelly on Sunday that he is gay.
"I came to tell the world that I'm an openly, proud gay man," Sam said Sunday 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, Sam 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."
Sam 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.
Sam 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 Sunday night at 8:02 p.m. ET.
Sam got postive reaction from some NFL players, including NFL player and former Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel:
Had multiple convos with @MikeSamFootball this year, amazed at his honesty & courage! Once a tiger, ALWAYS a Tiger!— Chase Daniel (@ChaseDaniel) February 10, 2014
Tampa Bay Buccaneers player Tom Crabtree also applauded Sam's decision:
Good for Michael Sam. Takes courage for where he is in his career and where we are as a league. I applaud him.— Tom Crabtree (@itsCrab) February 10, 2014
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."
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