White House congratulates first openly gay NFL draft pick
US President Barack Obama has congratulated Michael Sam, who on Saturday became the first openly gay player to be drafted by a pro football team.
Sam was picked by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round of the National Football League draft.
"The President congratulates Michael Sam, the Rams and the NFL for taking an important step forward in our Nation's journey," a White House statement said.
"From the playing field to the corporate boardroom, LGBT Americans prove every day that you should be judged by what you do and not who you are."
Sam is an award-winning defence end who played at the University of Missouri and was named as The Associated Press' defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference, considered college football's most competitive league.
When Sam received the news by telephone he burst into tears and kissed his boyfriend. Later he posted a picture of himself on Twitter with the message 'Thank you to the St. Louis Rams and the whole city of St. Louis. I'm using every (ounce) of this to achieve greatness!!'
VIDEO: Watch Michael Sam's reaction as he is told he's been drafted by the St Louis Rams
While his selection attracted a slurry of offensive and homophobic tweets, support from within the sport was swift.
"Congrats to @MikeSamFootball on becoming a @STLouisRams," Eric Dickerson, a Hall of Fame Rams running back wrote on Twitter. "Welcome to the #Rams family."
"Football plays an important and valuable role in cultivating leadership and respect," Brendon Ayanbadejo, a former Baltimore Ravens player and outspoken supporter of same-sex marriage, said in a statement.
"The St. Louis Rams just helped athletes everywhere feel more confident in their ability to be who they are and play the game they love."
Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at Central Florida University, said the NFL had been well prepared to accept openly gay players.
"The NFL was looking forward to this moment, and I think they're going to embrace it," Lapchick said.
"Had Sam not been picked in the draft, it would have sent a signal that the NFL wasn't going to be as welcoming."