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Michael Sam to become first openly gay NFL athlete

Michael Sam was just an ordinary mid-level NFL draft prospect before Feb. 9. Yet in one ESPN interview, Sam became a potential trailblazer in sports, football and the homosexual community. By coming out as a "openly proud gay man" the former Missouri Tigers defensemen goes into this spring's NFL draft poised to make history, as the first openly gay NFL player.

Michael Sam comes out before embarking on NFL career
Michael Sam comes out before embarking on NFL career
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Sam revealed his orientation to ESPN's "Outside the Lines" in an interview that aired on the night of Feb. 9. He also revealed that he already came out to his Missouri teammates before this past season -- a year where Sam was the AP's SEC defensive player of the year and the Tigers challenged for an SEC and national championship. However, coming out to the rest of the world before starting a pro career is a different landmark.

Sam admitted that he wanted to "own my truth" before his orientation was leaked by someone else. Now that he has, he's entered uncharted territory for an NFL prospect -- and any prospect for a major sport. While the NBA's Jason Collins made headlines last year as the first active major professional athlete to come out, he was already a veteran at the tail end of his career and hasn't played this season.

As for Sam, he was virtually assured of being an NFL draft pick, projected to go anywhere from the third to fifth round. While the media attention and potential cultural landfalls around him may scare some teams off, he is still bound to get drafted somewhere. When that happens, the media spotlight and social ramifications of his decision will not go away anytime soon.

As a landmark for homosexuals in the sports world, this is an even bigger step forward than Collins took. Nevertheless, Sam is a prospective rookie and a midlevel potential draft pick, not a star at the peak of his career.

If the day comes when an established superstar with endorsements or a projected top draft pick dares to come out in any major sport, it stands to be just as risky and revealing. However, that day is now more likely to come if Sam paves the way.