Missouri All-American Michael Sam says he is gay, and the defensive end could become the first openly homosexual player in the NFL.
In interviews with ESPN, the New York Times and Outsports that were published Sunday, Sam said he came out to all his teammates and coaches at Missouri in August.
"I am an openly, proud gay man," he said.
Sam will participate in the NFL combine later this month in Indianapolis and is currently projected to be a mid-round NFL draft pick in May.
"It's a big deal. No one has done this before. And it's kind of a nervous process, but I know what I want to be ... I want to be a football player in the NFL," he told ESPN.
The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Sam participated in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., last month after leading the SEC in sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (19). He was the conference's defensive player of the year.
There have been a few NFL players who have come out after their playing days, including Kwame Harris and Dave Kopay.
Last year, NBA player Jason Collins announced he was gay. Collins, a backup center, was a free agent when he came out and has not signed with a new team. MLS star and U.S. national team player Robbie Rogers also came out a year ago.
"His courage will inspire millions to live their truth," Rogers tweeted.
"We admire Michael Sam's honesty and courage," the NFL said in a statement. "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."
Sam's announcement comes at a time gay rights issues and sports have collided at the Sochi Olympics. Russia's anti-gay law has received much criticism because of the games.
Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams tweeted: "I could care less about a man's sexual preference! i care about winning games and being respectful in the locker room!"
Williams' teammate, cornerback Drayton Florence, posted on his Twitter account: "No comment but it can be a distraction in the locker room. At least he's open with it much respect!"
Sam said many people at the Senior Bowl all-star game for NFL prospects seemed to know he was gay.
"I didn't realize how many people actually knew, and I was afraid that someone would tell or leak something out about me," he told ESPN. "I want to own my truth. ... No one else should tell my story but me."
Sam told the Times he dated a man on the Missouri swim team and came out to teammates L'Damian Washington and Marvin Foster about a year ago, before letting the whole team know during last preseason.
"Coaches just wanted to know a little about ourselves, our majors, where we're from, and something that no one knows about you," Sam told ESPN. "And I used that opportunity just to tell them that I was gay. And their reaction was like, 'Michael Sam finally told us.' "
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said in a statement Sunday night: "Michael is a great example of just how important it is to be respectful of others, he's taught a lot of people here firsthand 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."
Missouri linebacker Donovan Bonner was a teammate of Sam's for five years.
"We knew of his status for 5 years and not one team member, coach, or staff member said anything says a lot about our family atmosphere," Bonner tweeted.