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By Larry and Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Defensive end Michael Sam of the University of Missouri became the first openly gay player to be selected in a National Football League Draft when he was taken in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams on Saturday.
Sam, the co-defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference who announced he was gay in February, would become the first openly gay player in the NFL should he make the team's 53-man regular season roster this summer.
The defensive end was taken on the 249th pick in the last round of the three-day draft at Radio City Music Hall.
Television cameras captured Sam receiving the phone call informing him of his selection, the Texan breaking into tears and shaking with joy at the news.
"Thank you to the St. Louis Rams and the whole city of St. Louis. I'm using every ounce of this to achieve greatness!!" He posted on his Twitter account.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher told the NFL Network: "I'm excited about our draft and excited about the possibility of adding him to our defensive front.
"After doing the studies, he's a good football player," Fisher said about the pick.
The NFL (@nfl) tweeted: "Welcome to the NFL, @MikeSamFootball."
Sam would become the second openly gay player in one of North America's four major professional team sports following basketball's Jason Collins, who joined the NBA's Brooklyn Nets this season.
"I think it's a great day for the NFL and for Michael and his family," Collins told ESPN before taking the court for the Nets' playoff game against the Miami Heat.
As for the significance of the day and what it means for the gay community, Collins said: "It takes more and more people just to come forward. We're normal people and we're just trying to make plays to make our respective teams win."
The 6-feet-2 (1.88 m), 260-pound (118 kg) Sam led the conference in sacks and in tackles for a loss, but waited until seven picks before the end of the draft to hear his name called after his stock fell following mediocre results at February's scouting combine.
Despite his success at Missouri, talent evaluators had said Sam might struggle to fit in on the field over concerns he might be too small to play regularly on the defensive line and not athletic enough to play in space as a linebacker.
Rams coach Fisher did not think that would be an issue.
"He's a player who was graded much higher on our draft board and he fell and we weren't going to miss out on this opportunity to add an outstanding football player to our program," Fisher told ESPN.
"In a world of diversity we live in now, I'm honored to be a part of this and excited about his opportunity to help this football team win."
Sam might benefit from a comfort level with his NFL team only a two-hour drive from the Missouri campus in Columbia.
Fisher said he was unconcerned about an anticipated media crush to cover Sam at training camp or about any problems within the clubhouse over welcoming a gay player.
"I don't have any concern whatsoever," said Fisher. "We drafted a good football player. I'm excited to get him on the practice field and get him going.
"There's going to be a little extra attention for a couple of days but...we're looking forward to this opportunity.
"We have a young team, (but) a very mature team. We're not going to let any kind of distractions affect this football team."
(Additional reporting by Gene Cherry and Andrew Both; Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes/Patrick Johnston)