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Sam could be first openly gay player in NFL

Missouri Tigers defensive lineman Michael Sam (52) reacts after a play during the second half against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the 2014 Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas in this January 13, 2014 file photo. According to media reports, Sam announced publicly he was gay February 9, 2014, paving the way from him to perhaps be the NFL’s first openly gay player. (USA TODAY Sports: Kevin Jairaj)

Missouri Tigers defensive lineman Michael Sam (52) reacts after a play during the second half against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the 2014 Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas in this January 13, 2014 file photo. According to media reports, Sam announced publicly he was gay February 9, 2014, paving the way from him to perhaps be the NFL’s first openly gay player. (USA TODAY Sports: Kevin Jairaj)

Michael Sam, who was the Southeastern Conference defense player of the year while playing for Missouri last season, could become the first openly gay player in the NFL.

He discussed his sexual orientation publically for the first time in an interview with the New York Times.

Sam revealed to Missouri coaches and players during a preseason practice in 2013 that he was gay.

“I looked in their eyes, and they just started shaking their heads — like, finally, he came out,” Sam said Sunday in the Times interview.

It was not revealed to the public then that Sam was gay, however.

Missouri went 12-2 in 2013 and finished with a victory in the Cotton Bowl.

The 6-foot-2, 260-pound Sam was chosen a first-team Associated Press All-American at defensive end.

His Missouri teammates voted him the Tigers’ most valuable player.

However, it remains to be seen whether his public declaration will affect his status for the NFL Draft.

Last April, professional basketball player Jason Collins became the first active male professional athlete in a major North American team sport to come out publicly as gay. He played for the Washington Wizards in 2012-2013, but he is not on an NBA roster this season.

There are no openly gay players in the NFL. In fact, at the moment there are no publicly gay male athletes in any of America’s four major male pro team sports — the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball.

Robbie Rogers is currently on the roster of the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer.

A former member of the United States national team who played professionally in England, Rogers revealed last year he was gay after he announced his retirement. He came out of retirement and joined the Galaxy in 2013 and played 11 games for the team.

Sam, 24, is ranked as the No. 9 defensive end and the No. 90 overall prospect in the upcoming draft by NFLDraftScout.com, which projects him to be taken in the third round.

Sam, who graduated from Missouri in December, told the Times he decided to announce his sexual orientation publicly now because he believed rumors were circulating.

“I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” said Sam, who also spoke with ESPN on Sunday. “I just want to own my truth.”

It is debatable whether Sam will be welcomed in the NFL.

Antigay statements by players have created negative publicity for the NFL.

Punter Chris Kluwe was released by the Minnesota Vikings last May, and he believes his public declarations regarding gay rights were partially responsible for his release. Kluwe also accused Vikings assistant coach Mike Priefer of bigotry.

New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma said in a recent interview with NFL Network that he did not want a gay teammate.

“I think he would not be accepted as much as we think he would be accepted,” Vilma said.

The NFL has a policy prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.

A few former pro players declared they were gay after they retired, including Dave Kopay, who played in the NFL in the 1970s.

Sam plans to attend the scouting combine with the hope of being drafted.

“I’m not naive,” Sam said in the Times interview. “I know this is a huge deal and I know how important this is. But my role as of right now is to train for the combine and play in the NFL.”