Michael Sam: NFL prospect comes out as gay ahead of May's draft

Defensive lineman could become the first openly gay player if drafted into NFL franchise

Michael Sam could become the US National Football League's first openly gay player after revealing his sexuality on Sunday.

"I came to tell the world I'm an openly gay man," he told sports network ESPN's Outside the Lines. "If I work hard, if I make plays, that's all that should matter."

The 24-year old NFL draft prospect is expected to join a team in May - making him the first gay player to compete in any of the four major US professional sports league. His decision to come out ahead of draft season is also a huge gamble for career.

He added: "I probably may be the first but I won't be the last. And I think only good things will come from this."

The defensive lineman said he wanted to come out as an "openly, proud gay man" on his own terms and  doing so publicly in a coordinated interview with The New York Times and ESPN was a "weight off his chest".

Watch below: Michael Sam reveals he is "an openly gay man"

Texas-born Sam said he had already revealed his sexual preference to his former coach and teammates at the University of Missouri's Mizzou Tigers last summer. He said they supported him from "day one" and their reaction was "awesome".

Sam said he kept it a secret growing up because he was uncertain about his sexual orientation . He dated a fellow athlete - who was not a football player - at Missouri.

He added: "I didn't want to say, 'Hey, I might be gay. I might be bi.' I just didn't know ... I wanted to find who I was and make sure I knew what was comfortable. So I didn't tell anyone growing up."

In a statement, the NFL welcomed his decision to come out saying: "We admire Michael Sam's honesty and courage. 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."

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was equally supportive: "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.

"Michael is a great example of just how important it is to be respectful of others, 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."

NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders tweeted: ''Michael Sam isn't the first gay player in the NFL although he is the first to come out. Let's show him love like a family member. Truth.''

NBA veteran Jason Collins, who came out last year, tweeted his support for the player: "He is a great young man who has shown tremendous courage and leadership. I can't wait to cheer for whatever lucky team that drafts (him)."

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