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University of Missouri football player Michael Sam revealed that he is gay tonight, becoming what may well be the first publicly gay player in the NFL.

"I'm Michael Sam: I'm a college graduate. I'm African American, and I'm gay," Sam said.

Michael Sam (AP)

Sam spoke to the New York Times' John Branch and ESPN's Chris Connelly in his first public statements about his sexuality. He came out to his team last year, before the most recent season started, and to two of his teammates about a year ago. He said they've been supportive, going to gay pride events and gay bars with him. 

Sam, a defensive lineman who graduated in December, will be entering the NFL draft in May. It's very likely he'll be drafted -- he was a first team all-American, defensive player of the year in the Southeastern conference, and his team's MVP. If so, he'll be the first openly gay NFL player and one of the first openly gay male professional athletes, period. Basketball player Jason Collins came out last year, but has to be signed by another NBA team. Also last year, soccer player Robbie Rogers came out after announcing his retirement, but then returned to the sport to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy.

But aside from a handful of players who came out only after they retired, the NFL hasn't had any openly gay athletes -- nor has it seemed particularly receptive to them. Former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe told Deadspin that his pro-gay marriage statements probably got him released from his team. Players like Torrey Smith and Chris Culliver haven't been shy in making homophobic statements. Just a few days ago, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma said he wouldn't be comfortable showering next to a gay teammate. We can hope Sam's sexual orientation won't be a big deal, but in the macho, posturing world of football it's likely it will be.

So far, at least, Sam says things have gone well. He tweeted:

As for whatever repercussions Sam may face for coming out, he told ESPN he's already been though worse:

I endured so much in my past: seeing my older brother killed from a gunshot wound, not knowing that my oldest sister died when she was a baby and I never got the chance to meet her. My second oldest brother went missing in 1998, and me and my little sister were the last ones to see him ... my other two brothers have been in and out of jail since 8th grade, currently both in jail.

Telling the world I'm gay is nothing compared to that.

Update, 9:25 p.m.: Outsports has an interesting behind-the-scenes look at Sam's announcement. 

University of Missouri football head coach Gary Pinkel and athletic director Mike Alden have released statements in support of Sam.

And from the school's official Twitter account:

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