The first openly gay player has been drafted into America’s National Football League, when the St Louis Rams took Michael Sam in the seventh round.
Sam, who starred as a defensive end for the University of Missouri and went public with his sexuality in February, had an agonisingly long wait for the historic moment.
He was taken with the 249th overall selection on Saturday’s final day of the annual allocation of new talent for America’s most popular sport, and cameras of broadcaster ESPN captured Sam’s emotional reaction to the telephone call from Rams head coach Jeff Fisher.
Fisher told the network that the team was mainly focused on what Sam can contribute, but he acknowledged the groundbreaking nature of the selection in a television interview.
“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,” Fisher told ESPN.
Present and former Rams promptly took to social media welcoming Sam to the Rams family.
Chad Griffin, president of the gay rights organisation Human Rights Campaign, welcomed the moment as a milestone for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth in sports.
“We congratulate Michael Sam and the St Louis Rams on their terrific decision to draft him,” Griffin said.
“Today, LGBT young people can look to Sam as proof that being open and proud of who you are doesn’t keep you from achieving your dreams.
“Gay people are our neighbours and friends. They’re our United States senators and, starting today, they’re our professional football stars.”
As a senior at Missouri, Sam notched 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for losses as he earned first-team All-American honours and the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year honours.
Sam will still have to earn his place on the Rams team.
But he has already inked his first endorsement deal, signing with Visa earlier this week.
Sam was all smiles by the time he took to Twitter to celebrate his selection
“Thank you to the St. Louis Rams and the whole city of St. Louis,” he tweeted, posting a picture of himself beaming into the camera.
“I’m using every once (ounce) of this to achieve greatness!!” he tweeted.