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Michael Sam wins Arthur Ashe Award

NEW YORK -- Michael Sam has been selected as the winner of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

The former Missouri defensive end, who likely will be taken in this week's NFL draft, will receive the award given to individuals who transcend sports at the 2014 ESPYS on July 16.

Sam, the SEC's defensive player of the year this past season, has announced he is gay and would become the first openly gay player in the NFL. He said in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America" on Tuesday that he hopes to inspire other athletes.

"I just feel like, you know, because I came out, was the first one to do it -- I think I can be a beacon for others, young athletes ... who are maybe gay or maybe not," he said. "And I think I could be a beacon for these people -- a light that, like, 'Hey, I could be comfortable in my own skin and be like Michael Sam.'"

He also said in the interview that it has always been his dream to play in the NFL.

"Where I'll go, it doesn't matter, as long as I get to play and put a jersey on my back," said Sam, who is from Hitchcock, Texas. "It's just awesome. I'm going to be proud wherever I go."

ESPN is honoring Sam for "his courage and honesty that resonates beyond sports."

"I'm very honored to be presented with the Arthur Ashe award," he said. "It is about courage.

"You know, I don't think there is anything courageous I did. I look forward to when we can live life in a world when gays don't have to come out in public."

He also told GMA that many closeted athletes have contacted him since he came out in February.

"You know, on the night of my announcement -- that week I had gotten so many emails, so many text messages from college and NFL players and other athletes in the sports industry about how courageous I was," Sam said. "[They] themselves are closeted homosexuals. So yeah, I'm not the only one. There's a lot of us."

Sam said he has received support from athletes in all sports, "from football to basketball to softball to soccer, everyone."

"I am thrilled to be living in a time when you can be accepted for how you live."

Sam joins a list of winners ranging from Jim Valvano, the first recipient in 1993, to Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King, Cathy Freeman, Nelson Mandela and Pat Summitt.

The award is named for Ashe, an inspirational tennis star who died in 1993 after contracting AIDS from a blood transfusion. After learning he had the disease, Ashe campaigned to raise awareness about AIDS.

"Arthur always believed in and practiced leading by example," said Ashe's widow, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe. "When Michael Sam announced that he is gay, he courageously stepped forward to engage an issue that still remains a pervasive problem in many professional sports. Michael has displayed true leadership both on and off the field."

Sam is one of eight children in his family. Two of his siblings have died, and one disappeared and has not been found.

Maura Mandt, executive producer of the ESPYS, calls Sam a "humble guy who isn't looking for any accolades."

"In deciding to give Michael this honor, while his courageous act of coming out is a part of it, the story is about the life he led growing up," Mandt said. "A man who has consistently lived his life with integrity is never afraid of living this truth."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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