Michael Sam could make history as the first openly gay athlete in the NFL.
The All-American lineman, who is eligible for the NFL draft in May, shared his story on Sunday while speaking to ESPN and The New York Times. "I came to tell the world that I'm an openly, proud gay man," said the University of Missouri senior, who came out to his Tigers teammates in August 2013.
"I want to own my truth," Sam told ESPN's Chris 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."
"It's a load off my chest," he said before praising his fellow athletes for their "great" reactions. "They rallied around me, they supported me, and I couldn't have asked for better teammates," Sam said.
Sam broke the news to the Tigers in August during a preseason training camp. "Coaches just wanted to know a little about ourselves, our majors, where we're from, and something that no one knows about you," he recalled. "And I used that opportunity just to tell them that I was gay. And their reaction was like, 'Michael Sam finally told us.'...I was kind of scared, even though they already knew. Just to see their reaction was awesome. They supported me from Day One. I couldn't have better teammates."
Sam has come a long way since his childhood days in Hitchcock, Texas. "I endured so much in my past: seeing my older brother killed from a gunshot wound, not knowing that my oldest sister died when she was a baby and I never got the chance to meet her. My second oldest brother went missing in 1998, and me and my little sister were the last ones to see him," Sam recalled. Noting that his "other two brothers" are "currently both in jail," he said, "Telling the world I'm gay is nothing compared to that."
The 6-foot-2 football player hopes he can inspire others to live more truthfully. "I understand how big this is," Sam told ESPN of coming out publicly. "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 NFL has since issued a statement regarding Sam's admission. "We admire Michael Sam's honesty and courage. 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," the 94-year-old league said.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers player Tom Crabtree supported Sam's decision, tweeting, "Good for Michael Sam. Takes courage for where he is in his career and where we are as a league. I applaud him." NFL player and former Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel also tweeted, "Had multiple convos with @MikeSamFootball this year, amazed at his honesty & courage! Once a tiger, ALWAYS a Tiger!"