COLUMBIA, Missouri -- Students interviewed at the University of Missouri on Monday were firmly supportive of National Football League (NFL) hopeful Michael Sam's coming out as gay in a pair of national television interviews broadcast on Sunday night in the United States.
Sam may potentially become the league's first openly homosexual player.
The NFL and the University of Missouri, where Sam starred as a defensive lineman, rallied around him. Even first lady Michelle Obama weighed in, calling him an "inspiration" for his courage on and off the field.
Many fans of Missouri football who have watched Sam on the field also showed support and said the news was a non-issue.
"He's the Defensive Player of the Year so us as MU students we don't really view him as any different than any other football player and we think he'll do pretty well in the draft, "said Matt Deatherage, a Sophmore at the University and ardent fan of the Tigers.
Sam is expected to be selected in the upcoming NFL draft, where stand-out college players can earn million-dollar salaries. If picked, he would become the first openly gay player to compete in any of North America's four major professional sports leagues - football, baseball, basketball and hockey.
"It wasn't very surprising. I'm really glad that he came out and was able to tell the world and not be hiding it, I guess. He never was one to really hide things. He was open and never really needed to hide things. He was a take me as I am type of person," senior Reagan Peltier, added.
Some commentators were less enthusiastic following Sunday's announcement, including former NFL head coach Herm Edwards, who said on ESPN that Sam may bring "baggage" to a locker room because of the media scrutiny placed on him and his team.
And eight NFL executives and coaches interviewed by Sports Illustrated on the condition of anonymity said Sam's coming out could hurt his standing in the draft. Sam's coach Gary Pinkel had spoken to Sam about his decision month's before Sunday's announcement. Sam came out to his team over the summer.
"We talked about it last August, I told him, I said this is going to be...I use the word mammoth a lot. I don't have a word, okay, how big this is going to be, but I think he'll be fine. It'll just be interesting to see things happen and where they go."
Sam decided to make the announcement after it became apparent about two weeks ago that NFL scouts were questioning his sexual orientation, said Los Angeles publicist Howard Bragman, whom Sam hired to help him handle the disclosure
Sam, a 6-foot-2, 260-pound pass rusher who graduated in December, was named Defensive Player of the Year in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) after leading the SEC with 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for a loss.
The NFL issued a statement applauding Sam's "honesty and courage and university spokesman Chad Moller said the attitude on and off campus toward Sam has been "overwhelmingly positive."
Seventeen states and the federal government have moved toward expanding gay rights, including same-sex marriage, but U.S. sports have been seen as lagging in its acceptance of gay and lesbian athletes.
In April, veteran basketball player Jason Collins revealed he was gay after the regular season and was not signed for the 2013-2014 season. Collins was the first openly gay athlete in any of North America's four major professional sports leagues, though he never competed as an openly gay player.