Michael Sam, who has become the first openly gay NFL player.
Michael Sam, who has become the first openly gay NFL player.

Michael Sam, 24, has become the first openly gay player to be drafted into America's National Football League.

Sam, who played college football at the University of Missouri, was selected by the St Louis Rams on the final day of this year's draft.

The defensive linesman was contacted by Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, who told ESPN his main concern was with Sam's abilities as a player.

But Fisher added: "In the world of diversity we live in now, I'm honoured to be part of this and I'm excited about his opportunity to help this football team win."

Sam's decision to come out in February was widely praised, including by US president Barack Obama.

In February, Sam told ESPN: "I came to tell the world I'm an openly gay man.

"If I work hard, if I make plays - that's all that should matter."

He said he had revealed his sexuality to former college team-mates, but said that going public was "a weight off his chest".

"I probably may be the first but I won't be the last. And I think only good things will come from this," he added.

As the conclusion to the draft approached, debate had intensified about whether his sexuality had led to him not being picked.

"I don't think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet," one former NFL coach told Sports Illustrated.

Sam told a press conference: "I just wish you guys would see me as 'Michael Sam the football player', instead of 'Michael Sam the gay football player'."

In February, Jason Collins became the first openly gay athlete to compete in a game in a major US professional sports league, playing for basketball team Brooklyn Nets.