DENVER -- Denver football legend John Elway said Monday he applauded the decision by University of Missouri linebacker Michael Sam to publicly announce he is gay.
"I applaud Michael Sam and wish him the very best as he continues the pursuit of his NFL dream," Elway said. "As we look toward the combine and draft, we will evaluate Michael just like any other draft prospect—on the basis of his ability, character and NFL potential. His announcement will have no effect on how we see him as a football player."
"Having spent 16 years in an NFL locker room, the bottom line is that it’s about treating others with respect and earning that respect," Elway said. "By all indications, it appears Michael has done just that throughout his football career.”
He 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."
At 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds, Sam starred in college football last season. Besides being first team All-American, he 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, he's expected to be picked in the NFL draft in May.
The NFL issued a statement on Twitter Sunday: "We admire Michael Sam's honesty and courage. Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014."
Assuming he is drafted, Sam would become the first openly gay player in the NFL.