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NFL draft prospect Michael Sam says he is gay

02.09.14 at 8:47 pm ET

Former Missouri defensive end and current NFL draft prospect Michael Sam said Sunday in interviews with ESPN and The New York Times that he is gay.

“I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” Sam said. “€œI just want to own my truth.”

The reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Sam is well-regarded as a potential draft prospect, having finished the 2013 season with 11.5 sacks. He is projected to be an early-round draft choice. If he is drafted, he could become the first active openly gay NFL player — former players Esera Tuaolo and Kwame Harris came out after their careers were done.

Sam told the Times that the Missouri program has supported him.

“Some people actually just couldn’€™t believe I was actually gay,” Sam said. “But I never had a problem with my teammates. Some of my coaches were worried, but there was never an issue. Once I became official to my teammates, I knew who I was. I knew that I was gay. And I knew that I was Michael Sam, who’€™s a Mizzou football player who happens to be gay.

“I was so proud of myself and I just didn’€™t care who knew. If someone on the street would have asked me, ‘€˜Hey, Mike, I heard you were gay; is that true?’€™ I would have said yes. I guess they don’€™t want to ask a 6-3, 260-pound defensive lineman if he was gay or not.”

“We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage,” the NFL said in a 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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