Defensive end Michael Sam, a star at the University of Missouri who made headlines in February when he announced he is gay, was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round as the 249th overall pick on Saturday.
The choice makes Sam the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team, and if he makes the final roster after training camp, he will be the first openly gay player in NFL history.
Sam racked up accolades, especially in his senior season, being named a Southeastern Conference co–defensive player of year as well as a first team All-SEC by the Associated Press and the coaches’ poll. He was also a Freshman All-American in 2010.
Still, he isn’t considered a prototypical defensive end by NFL standards, lacking some height and weight of his would-be peers at the pro level. His performance at the NFL Combine was considered less than stellar, ranking in the bottom third among defensive linemen in several areas. He was projected as a late-round pick.
“We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage,” the NFL said in statement released after his February announcement. “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.”
Donovan Bonner, Sam’s teammate for five years at Missouri, tweeted at the time, “We knew of his status for five years, and not one team member, coach or staff member said anything says a lot about our family atmosphere.”
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