Missouri first-team All-American defensive lineman and 2013-2014 SEC Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam announced Sunday on ESPN television that he is gay, something that the 24-year-old NFL hopeful told his teammates and coaches prior to Missouri’s 12-2 season. Eligible for the upcoming May draft, the star defensive end – who is projected to be a middle round selection – would become the first openly gay player in NFL history, something Sam understands and looks forward to. A strong believer in his ability to succeed in the NFL, Sam noted on ESPN’s ‘Outside the Lines’ that he made this announcement ahead of the draft so people know who the real Michael Sam is.

“I understand how big this is,” Sam, who finished the season with 48 total tackles and 11.5 sacks, said Sunday. “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. I didn't realize how many people actually knew, and I was afraid that someone would tell or leak something out about me. I want to own my truth. No one else should tell my story but me. Coaches just wanted to know a little about ourselves, our majors, where we're from, and something that no one knows about you. And I used that opportunity just to tell them that I was gay. And their reaction was like, 'Michael Sam finally told us.’”

Despite a strong show of support from loved ones, his Missouri teammates and the Tigers coaching staff, multiple reports indicate that many NFL figures do not feel strongly about Sam’s recent announcement. “I don't think football is ready for an openly gay player just yet,” an unnamed NFL player personnel assistant said to Sports Illustrated shortly after Michael Sam’s interview. “In the coming decade or two, it's going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it's still a man's-man game. To call somebody a gay slur is still so commonplace. It'd chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”

The same assistant also believes that Sam’s draft stock will dip because he doesn’t believe many teams are ready for the type of media presence that would appear. “You're going to have to have one confident general manager or head coach that is certainly entrenched in his position and established to draft a player like that,” the assistant said. “It's one thing to have Chris Kluwe or Brendon Ayanbadejo, advocates for gay rights, on your team. It's another to have a current confirmed player.”

The 2014 NFL Combine takes place from February 22 through February 25 with the NFL Draft’s Opening Night falling on Thursday, May 8.