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Michael Sam: St. Louis Rams draft NFL’s first openly gay player (updated)

Michael Sam reacted to news that he’d been drafted with tears and a hug. (AP / ESPN)

Updated at 6:50 p.m. EDT: Michael Sam was taken by the St. Louis Rams with the 249th pick in the NFL draft.

The NFL stood on the brink of a historical decision Saturday and it took until nearly the end of the draft for Michael Sam to become the first openly gay player drafted into the league.

Sam, the SEC co-defensive player of the year at Missouri, was taken late in the seventh and final round by the St. Louis Rams with the 249th pick (out of 256 over the three days of the draft). St. Louis is a great landing spot for him. He’ll join a stellar defense under Gregg Williams and he spent his college career just over two hours away.

Sam, filmed by ESPN as he received the phone call from Rams Coach Jeff Fisher, broke down and sobbed as he learned that he was going to the Rams.

A 24-year-old lineman from Hitchcock, Texas, Sam announced that he was gay shortly after the Super Bowl. His performance in the annual scouting combine was disappointing and many experts wondered if he would be drafted. Some questioned on Twitter just why Sam was going undrafted for so long, with only one SEC Defensive Player of the Year since 2004 not being taken among the first 33 picks in the draft. “For them not to select him would be very problematic,” Cyd Zeigler, the founder, said in a pre-draft interview with NBC News. “If he isn’t selected, it’s a public black eye on the league.”

From earlier:

Michael Sam will learn his fate in the NFL on Saturday.

Will he be the first openly gay player drafted into the league or will he have to hope that a team signs him as an undrafted free agent? The Missouri defensive end, the SEC co-defensive player of the year, is considered to be a late-round pick in Rounds 4-7 and may not be taken at all because of his sub-par performance for scouts and concerns about his size. But there are powerful reasons for considering him, as he says in a new VISA ad.

This summer, Sam will receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Aware at the ESPYs.

“I just feel like, you know, because I came out, was the first one to do it — I think I can be a beacon for others, young athletes … who are maybe gay or maybe not,” Sam told ESPN. “And I think I could be a beacon for these people — a light that, like, ‘Hey, I could be comfortable in my own skin and be like Michael Sam.'”

Sam seems well-prepared for whatever the NFL draft brings.

“Where I’ll go, it doesn’t matter, as long as I get to play and put a jersey on my back,” Sam said. “It’s just awesome. I’m going to be proud wherever I go.”

After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.
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