Michael Sam, University of Missouri defensive lineman and the Associated Press' SEC Defensive Player of the Year, announced he is gay. The 24-year-old is expected to be taken in this year's upcoming draft, meaning Sam could become the first openly gay player in the NFL.
Sam told The New York Times and ESPN that his decision to come out publicly was prompted by rumors that circulated about his sexuality. He said during the Senior Bowl two weeks ago, he felt as though people were already aware he was gay.
"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, who grew up in the town of Hitchcock, Texas, came out to members of his team first, back in August. Today's announcement was planned on his part.
"I understand how big this is," Sam said. "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 released a statement in support of Sam:
"We admire Michael Sam's honesty and courage," NFL senior vice president of communications Greg Aiello said in the 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."
"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," Sam said. "I'm comfortable in my skin."
Image via Getty Images.