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Top NFL draft prospect Michael Sam announces he's gay

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“I came to tell the world that I’m an openly proud gay man.”

Those are the words of University of Missouri graduate Michael Sam, a defensive end on the school’s highly successful football team. The 24-year-old made his homosexuality public Sunday in an interview broadcast through ESPN.

Sam’s announcement is unique because he’s likely the most talented football player to ever formally announce he’s gay. In fact, Sam—a fourth-year player who doubled the SEC defensive player of the year last year—is so good at the sport that he stands a chance to get drafted into the NFL. Should he get drafted in April, he’ll be the first openly gay man to compete in the NFL.

A six-minute video of Sam’s interview with ESPN’s Chris Connelly hit YouTube Sunday evening. In it, he discusses the support he received from his Missouri teammates when he came out to them in August (“They rallied around me,” he said. “They supported me. I couldn’t ask for better teammates.”) and explained how hardships within his family—the seventh of eight children, he’s seen three die and two spend significant time in prison—have made this announcement easier. 

“Telling the world I’m gay is nothing compared to that,” he said, adding that his primary focus with being a gay football player is on the “football player.”

“It’s a nervous process, but I know what I want to be,” he said. “I want to play a snap in the NFL.” 

The ugly side of American society has already gotten its shots in, with hateful messages posting to Twitter and two articles on Sports Illustrated’s website articulating the ways in which anonymous individuals associated with NFL teams believe Sam’s draft prospects may take a hit. 

Sam’s response can be found in his interview.

“It shouldn’t matter. If I work hard, if I make plays, that’s all that should matter. I’m a football player. That’s all that matters.” 

Photo via Boxing/YouTube