Missouri All-American Michael Sam says he is gay, and the defensive end could become the first openly homosexual player in the NFL.
In interviews with ESPN, The New York Times and Outsports that were published Sunday, Sam said he came out to all his teammates and coaches at Missouri in August.
"I am an openly, proud gay man," he said.
Sam will participate in the NFL combine later this month in Indianapolis and is currently projected to be a mid-round draft pick in May.
"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," he told ESPN.
The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Sam participated in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., last month after leading the Southeastern Conference in sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (19). He was the SEC defensive player of the year.
There have been a few NFL players who have come out after their playing days, including Kwame Harris and Dave Kopay.
Last year, NBA player Jason Collins announced he was gay after the season. Collins, a 35-year-old backup center, was a free agent when he came out and has not signed with a new team this season. MLS star and U.S. national team player Robbie Rogers also came out a year ago.
"His courage will inspire millions to live their truth," Rogers tweeted about Sam.
Division III Willamette kicker Conner Mertens, a redshirt freshman, said last month he was bisexual.
"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."
Sam's announcement comes at a time gay rights issues and sports have collided at the Olympics in Sochi. Russia's anti-gay law has received much attention, and criticism, because of the games.
"By rewriting the script for countless young athletes, Michael has demonstrated the leadership that, along with his impressive skills on the field, makes him a natural fit for the NFL," said Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD, a leading lesbian gay, bisexual and transgender media advocacy organization. "With acceptance of LGBT people rising across our coasts — in our schools, churches, and workplaces — it's clear that America is ready for an openly gay football star."
The NFL's sexual orientation, anti-discrimination and harassment policy states:
Coaches, General Managers and others responsible for interviewing and hiring draft-eligible players and free agents must not seek information concerning or make personnel decisions based on a player's sexual orientation. This includes asking questions during an interview that suggest that the player's sexual orientation will be a factor in the decision to draft or sign him.