Michael Sam will very likely be the first openly gay NFL player after the SEC Defensive Player of the Year came out publicly on Sunday.
In an interview with ESPN's Outside the Lines, the Missouri defensive end said he told coaches and teammates in August that he is gay, noting that they "rallied around me and supported me."
Sam said he was encouraged to come out publicly after attending the Senior Bowl, where many players from other teams already knew about his sexual orientation. Sam said with so many people aware of his situation, he wanted to be able to come out on his own terms.
"I didn't realize how many people actually knew, and I was afraid that someone would tell or leak something out about me," he said. "I want to own my truth.... No one else should tell my story but me."
Many around the Missouri program have already known, Sam said. Though not officially in the open about his sexual orientation, Sam said he dated a fellow Missouri athlete --- not a football player --- and was not met with surprise when he finally came out.
"Coaches just wanted to know a little about ourselves, our majors, where we're from, and something that no one knows about you," Sam said. "And I used that opportunity just to tell them that I was gay. And their reaction was like, 'Michael Sam finally told us.' "
His move follows a trend of more professional athletes coming out as gay. Last year NBA player Jason Collins came out in a story published in Sports Illustrated, and rumors had circulated that a number of NFL players were preparing to come out together.
Sam said coming out as gay felt empowering.
"I'm not afraid to tell the world who I am. I'm Michael Sam: I'm a college graduate. I'm African American, and I'm gay," he said. "I'm comfortable in my skin."
Michael Sam is eligible for the NFL draft in May, and has been projected as a mid-round pick. Last season he led the SEC with 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for a loss. He is rated as the 12th best outside pass rusher by ESPN Scouts Inc.