Michael Sam
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. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Sam, Missouri All-American and NFL prospect, has publicly come out as gay, when he discussed his sexual orientation for the first time in an interview with the New York Times and ESPN.

The 2013 SEC defensive player of the year told ESPN: “I am an openly, proud, gay man,” adding: “I understand how big this is. 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."

Sam’s decision to speak out publicly comes after his experience two weeks ago at the Senior Bowl. He reportedly said in the interview that many seemed to be aware of his sexual orientation.

"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."

Sam said that he had already confided to some of his close friends about being gay, and that the thought of coming out publicly came to him as an afterthought during his pre-season training camp last year.

"Coaches just wanted to know a little about ourselves, our majors, where we're from, and something that no one knows about you," Sam reportedly said. "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 reportedly said in a statement: “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.”

Pinkel also added that: “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."

On Sunday, NFL released a statement supporting Sam’s decision of coming out publicly about his sexual orientation.

“We admire Michael Sam's honesty and courage," NFL senior vice president of communications Greg Aiello said in the 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."

Activist group GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement: "By rewriting the script for countless young athletes, Michael has demonstrated the leadership that, along with his impressive skills on the field, makes him a natural fit for the NFL.” She adding that: "With acceptance of LGBT people rising across our coasts -- in our schools, churches, and workplaces -- it's clear that America is ready for an openly gay football star."