Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam hopes to be the NFL's first openly gay player.
"Once I became official to my teammates, I knew who I was," Sam said told the New York Times. "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."
In multiple interviews published Sunday night, Sam — a first team all-Southeastern Conference pick last season and potential mid-round NFL draft pick in May — revealed he is gay.
Sam told ESPN and the New York Times he came out to his Missouri teammates before last season.
"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."
No NFL player has announced publicly he's gay while his career is active. Several former players, including Kwame Harris and Esera Tuaolo, have said they're gay after retiring.
"We're really happy for Michael that he's made the decision to announce this, and we're proud of him and how he represents Mizzou," Head Coach Gary Pinkel said in a statement. " Michael is a great example of just how important it is to be respectful of others, he's taught a lot of people here first-hand that it doesn't matter what your background is, or your personal orientation, we're all on the same team and we all support each other. If Michael doesn't have the support of his teammates like he did this past year, I don't think there's any way he has the type of season he put together."
There is anti-discrimination language in the collective-bargaining agreement. In April 2013, the NFL also sent a sexual orientation anti-discrimination and harassment policy to all club presidents, coaches and general managers, who shared it with their staff.
"We are so proud of Michael for what he has accomplished at Mizzou academically, socially and competitively," Mizzou Athletic Director Mike Alden said in a statement. "This is a young man who earned his degree from MU, was a unanimous All-American on the football field and now he's being a leader in his personal life. He continues to display great character, courage and compassion. We are proud of him on every level."