imagesMichael Sam, All-American defensive lineman from Missouri Tigers and voted by teammates as the state’s most valuable player, says he is an open and proud gay man in interviews with both the New York Times and ESPN.

The 24-year-old, who was also named the Associated Press’ SEC Defensive Player of the Year, is expected to be chosen during the early rounds of the NFL draft in May. Sam reveals he came out to his fellow Tigers during a team-building exercise last year. “I looked in their eyes, and they just started shaking their heads — like, finally, he came out,” Sam told the Times

Asked by ESPN how he felt during that moment Sam replied, “I was kind of scared, even though they already knew. Just to see their reaction was awesome. They supported me from Day One. I couldn’t have better teammates. … I’m telling you what: I wouldn’t have the strength to do this today if I didn’t know how much support they’d given me this past semester.”

Sam made it clear that his teammates, coaches and administrators have been very supportive and added that some straight team members have accompanied him to gay bars and the gay pride event in St. Louis last summer.

The decision to come out publicly was made, Sam said, because he sensed rumors about his orientation were already circulating.

“I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” Sam told NYT. “I just want to own my truth.”

The 6-3, 260-pound athlete is aware that his public revelation will be greeted with a mix of different reactions. “There will be negativity, negative reactions,” Sam said. “I expect that. … Everyone can say hurtful things and hateful things; I don’t let stuff like that distract me. But there are going to be positives. The positives will outweigh the negative.”

Let’s hope this will inspire other NFL prospects and players to find the courage to make sure that while Sam will likely be the first openly gay player, he won’t be the only one.

Aaron, your turn

GLAAD notified Queerty the NFL quickly released a statement that reads, “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.”

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