COLUMBIA, Mo. -

Former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam has come out as gay, telling ESPN and the New York Times on Sunday evening.

In an interview on the all-sports network, Sam said he told his Mizzou team at the beginning of last season.

"I'm not afraid of who I am. I'm not afraid to tell the world who I am, I am Michael Sam, a college graduate, an African American, and I'm gay," he said.

"Michael is a great example of just how important it is to be respectful of others, he's taught a lot of people here first-hand that it doesn't matter what your background is, or your personal orientation," Mizzou football coach Gary Pinkel said in a statement. "we're all on the same team and we all support each other."

"We are so proud of Michael for what he has accomplished at Mizzou academically, socially and competitively," Missouri athletics director Mike Alden said in a statement. "He continues to display great character, courage and compassion. We are proud of him on every level."

Sam is invited to the 2014 NFL combine and is pursuing a career in the NFL. If drafted, Sam will be the first openly gay player in the league.

National Football League scouts and general managers were said to have known of Michael Sam's sexual orientation before the Sunday announcement.

ESPN reports the officials were "not surprised" and think the timing of his announcement is appropriate.