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Top American football prospect announces he's gay

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A university American football star, Michael Sam, publicly revealed that he is gay, placing him in the unprecedented position of likely becoming the first openly homosexual player drafted by an NFL team.

In interviews on Sunday with ESPN's "Outside the Lines" and The New York Times, Sam said he was going public with information that was already known to his teammates and coaches at the University of Missouri.

"I am an openly, proud gay man," Sam, a 24-year-old defensive lineman who was the Southeast Conference's Defensive Player of the Year, told ESPN.

Sam is eligible for the NFL draft in May. If he is drafted, he would be the first openly gay player in the ultra-macho league's history.

"I understand how big this is," he told ESPN. "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."

Sam, projected to be a middle-round draft selection, said he decided to speak out now because he wanted to tell his own story.

"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," University of Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said in a statement.

"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."

Publicly, the NFL also voiced support.

"We admire Michael Sam's honesty and courage," the league 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."

Sarah Kate Ellis, head of GLAAD, a lesbian, gay and bisexual rights group, offered her group's support and claimed that it's "clear that America is ready for an openly gay football star."

Privately, however, there is plenty of apprehension.

"I don't think football is ready for an (openly gay player) just yet," an NFL player assistant told Sports Illustrated magazine, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"In the coming decade or two, it's going to be acceptable, but at this point it's still a man's-man game. To call someone a (gay slur) is still so commonplace. It'd chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room."

A veteran NFL scout told the magazine that there was "no question" that the announcement would drop Sam in the draft, while an assistant NFL coach described it as "not a smart move" that "legitimately affects (his) potential earnings."

Judd Legum, editor of the liberal website Thinkprogress, lashed out on Twitter. "Really brave of these anonymous NFL executives to criticize a talented college player for coming out as gay," Legum wrote.

Others on Twitter noted that similar concerns were the same raised in 1947 about Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player in a major national team.

With hostility to homosexuality still common in the sports world, American Robbie Rogers said last year that he thought coming out as a gay man would spell the end of his football career.

However, Rogers found that not to be the case, signing with the Los Angeles Galaxy to become Major League Soccer's first openly gay player.

Basketball center Jason Collins also told the world last April that he is gay, a revelation that created a bigger splash in the United States because of NBA basketball's high profile.

Collins, who was a free agent who had played for six NBA teams over 12 seasons, hasn't played since his announcement.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140210/top-american-football-prospect-announces-hes-gay