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updated: 2/10/2014 10:14 PM

Bears GM lauds Sam's courage

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Missouri's Michael Sam was voted the top defensive player in the top football conference in the country for his performance in the 2013 season, although at 6-feet-2 and 255 pounds he's probably too small to remain at defensive end, where he had 11½ sacks for the Tigers last season.

But that isn't the most important factor that NFL teams will consider three months from now when deciding when or if they should draft Sam, who made it public Sunday night that he is gay. Sam would be the first active, openly gay player in NFL history.

Former San Francisco 49ers running back Dave Kopay came out in 1975, three years after he retired following a nine-year career with five teams. Most recently, former 49ers offensive lineman and first-round draft pick Kwame Harris came out last year, five years after his six-year NFL career ended.

Bears general manager Phil Emery praised Sam and said Sam would be judged by his play on the field.

"Michael stated with great poise and confidence who he is as a person and football player, and I have tremendous respect for him in the way he conveyed his thoughts and the courage it took to state them publicly," Emery said in an email released Monday by the Bears.

"Michael stated this, and I agree with his thoughts. It is about his skill set as a football player to add positively to a team's goals, and that's how he will be evaluated."

At his current size, Sam, who led the SEC in sacks and in tackles for negative yardage with 19, would be one of the NFL's shortest and lightest defensive ends.

The consensus of most NFL scouts and draft evaluators, Sam might be a better fit as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment, but he has virtually no experience at that position and will have to prove he can make the position switch or remain at end and be used as a pass-rush specialist.

Most draft prognosticators had the all-American pegged as a middle-round draft pick, going as high as the third round or as low as the fifth -- before Sunday night. It remains to be seen how his revelation will affect his draft status, as teams weigh his talent vs. the disruption that his presence could cause, either in the media or the locker room.

"Each and every player in the NFL is a unique individual, as we all are in life," Emery said. "We all ultimately gain respect in our jobs by how well we perform at our chosen profession and if the level in which we perform adds positively to the collective goal of success."

Many teams and players have reacted positively, similar to the Bears' Emery. But others are sure to disagree or shy away from becoming the NFL's test case. The league issued a statement in support of Sam.

"We admire Michael Sam's honesty and courage," the statement read. "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."

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