By Edith Honan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Michael Sam, a star college football player who is potentially a top prospect in the National Football League's upcoming draft, came out as gay in a video posted on the New York Times website on Sunday, and could become the NFL's first openly gay player.
"I'm Michael Sam. I'm a football player and I'm gay," Sam, a defensive lineman, said in the video. "I just want to own my truth before anyone breaks a story about me."
Even as 17 states and the federal government have moved toward expanding gay rights, including same-sex marriage, U.S. sports have been seen as lagging in its acceptance of gay and lesbian athletes.
Gay rights organizations greeted Sam's announcement with enthusiasm. Sarah Kate Ellis, the president of GLAAD, a media advocacy organization, said Sam had "rewritten the script for countless young athletes."
"With acceptance of (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) people rising across our coasts - in our schools, churches, and workplaces - it's clear that America is ready for an openly gay football star," she said in a statement.
Sam was a defensive lineman for the University of Missouri's Mizzou Tigers until he graduated in December.
In the video, Sam said that when he first spoke with his teammates about his sexuality last August, they rallied around him and supported him.
Brian Ellner, a gay-rights activist and board member of the group Athlete Ally, said, "We expect the leadership at NFL teams around the country, and the league itself, to wholeheartedly embrace the change that is not only sweeping our nation in the form of law, but also defining our playing fields and culture.
"How Michael Sam is received on the professional level will go a long way in defining the NFL's legacy," Ellner said.
Sam could not immediately be reached for comment.
Last April, veteran basketball player Jason Collins revealed he was gay in a Sports Illustrated article. That made him the first openly gay National Basketball Association athlete and the first openly gay player in any of North America's four major professional sports leagues.
(Reporting By Edith Honan; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)