(CNN) – Michael Sam, an All-American defensive lineman who played for the University of Missouri, made history Saturday as the first openly gay player to be drafted by a National Football League team.
Sam was picked by the St. Louis Rams in the 7th round. He was the 249th overall pick.
The 24-year-old got the news by telephone from Rams’ coach Jeff Fisher, who told Sam: “You are a Ram. The wait is finally over.”
Sam broke down in tears in the arms of his boyfriend and said “thank you,” according to a live broadcast carried by ESPN.
The Rams’ pick was not surprising given the team’s vicinity to the University of Missouri in Columbia, where Sam was a standout as a defensive end.
Sam, at 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds, was a standout last season.
Besides being first team All-American, Sam was named the top defensive player in the Southeastern Conference, considered the nation’s best league. Teammates named him the team’s most valuable player.
With those credentials, Sam was expected to be picked in the draft.
In February, Sam came out in interviews with ESPN and The New York Times, a decision that raised questions about whether he had damaged his chances to play in the NFL.
“I came to tell the world I’m an openly proud gay man,” he said in an interview with ESPN.
Sam said he told his Missouri teammates in August and suffered no repercussions. He said he was surprised to discover many people in the media already knew he was gay.
“I understand how big this is,” Sam said in the ESPN interview. “It’s a big deal. No one has done this before. And it’s kind of a nervous process, but I know what I want to be … I want to be a football player in the NFL.”
Sam also spoke about his sexual orientation to The New York Times, saying: “I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it. I just want to own my truth.”
At the start of the draft on Thursday, it appeared it was also on Sam’s mind.
“No matter what happen(s) these next few days, I will always cherish moments like this!!!,” he said in a post on Twitter.
As the NFL draft wore on, there were questions whether he would be picked. He went near the end of the 7th and final round.
Other athletes have come out as gay, but they didn’t have Sam’s profile. Among them are the NBA’s Jason Collins, the WNBA’s Brittney Griner, WWE’s Darren Young, UFC’s Liz Carmouche, MMA’s Fallon Fox and Major League Soccer’s Robbie Rogers.
Of those athletes, Collins made the biggest media splash. He’s not playing in the NBA this season.
“I think it’s great. I’m looking forward to seeing him play,” Collins told ESPN in the minutes after the draft pick was announced.
Fisher told ESPN that Sam was a player who was rated by the team much higher in the draft.
“We weren’t going to miss the opportunity to add an outstanding player to our roster,” he said.