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NFL: Sam becomes first openly gay player drafted into NFL

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Michael Sam became the first openly gay player to be drafted into the National Football League on Saturday when the St. Louis Rams took him in the final round.

Sam, who starred as a defensive end for the University of Missouri and went public with his sexuality in February, had an agonizingly long wait for the historic moment.

He was taken with the 249th overall selection on the final day of the annual allocation of new talent for America's most popular sport.

Cameras of broadcaster ESPN captured Sam's emotional reaction to the telephone call from Rams head coach Jeff Fisher.

Fisher told the network that the team was mainly focused on what Sam can contribute on the field, but he acknowledged the groundbreaking nature of the selection.

"In the world of diversity we live in now, I'm honored to be part of this and I'm excited about his opportunity to help this football team win," Fisher told ESPN.

Sam, 24, became the first openly gay man to be drafted into one of America's major professional sports leagues.

Veteran NBA player Jason Collins wasn't with a team when he came out last year, but is now playing for the Brooklyn Nets.

- Nothing to be afraid of -

In revealing his sexuality, already known to his university teammates, Sam said he had hoped to be judged not as a social trailblazer but as a football player.

But his presence among the prospects in the draft made the final day -- usually the preserve of diehard fans -- a widely watched affair.

"So proud of the @STLouisRams for showing there's nothing to be afraid of," comedian and chat show host Ellen DeGeneres said on Twitter. "Congratulations, @MikeSamFootball."

Chad Griffin, president of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, welcomed the moment as a milestone for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth in sports.

"We congratulate Michael Sam and the St. Louis Rams on their terrific decision to draft him," Griffin said in a statement.

"Today, LGBT young people can look to Sam as proof that being open and proud of who you are doesn't keep you from achieving your dreams.

"Gay people are our neighbors and friends. They're our United States senators and, starting today, they're our professional football stars."

As a senior at Missouri, Sam notched 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for losses as he earned first-team All-American honors and the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors.

However, his draft stock dropped after a disappointing showing at the NFL scouting combine, where teams evaluate potential new players.

In addition, at 6-foot-2 and 256 pounds (1.88m, 116 kg), Sam is small for an NFL defensive end and many teams would have wanted him to transition to outside linebacker in the NFL.

That had draft pundits predicting Sam wouldn't be taken until the sixth round of the draft, and, in fact, it wasn't until the seventh and final round was winding down -- seven spots before the 256th and final selection -- that he was picked.

As unheralded players from small colleges were chosen and Sam's name remained uncalled, commentators began to question whether teams were staying away over concern over his football abilities or over how having an openly gay player might affect them.

Deion Sanders, a former player who is now a television announcer, posted on Twitter: "Some team needs to Draft Michael Sam and be real the kid can play!"

- 'Welcome to the squad' -

Sam still has work to do.

Although widespread interest in his story meant he had already inked his first endorsement deal -- with Visa -- he now will have to compete for a place on a Rams team loaded with defensive line talent.

St. Louis defensive end Robert Quinn, who led the league with 19 sacks last season, was among the current and former Rams players who used social media to roll out the welcome mat.

"Welcome to the squad @MikeSamFootball," Quinn tweeted. "#D-LineShowtime."

Sam was all smiles by the time he took to Twitter to celebrate his selection.

"Thank you to the St. Louis Rams and the whole city of St. Louis," he tweeted, posting a picture of himself beaming into the camera.

"I'm using every (ounce) of this to achieve greatness!!"

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140511/nfl-sam-becomes-first-openly-gay-player-drafted-nfl