updated 05/14/2014 AT 8:00 AM ET
•originally published 05/14/2014 AT 12:10 PM ET
Michael Sam told the world he was gay sooner than he intended.
“When I came out in February, it actually wasn’t the time I wanted to come out. I was going to come out to my [pro] team – whoever drafted me,” he said in an interview prior to his historic May 10 selection by the St. Louis Rams, speaking to PEOPLE exclusively for a portfolio of gay professional athletes on their choices to play and live openly.
(Watch our video featuring five pro gay athletes sharing their moving stories below.)
Well before his announcement – which eventually made him the NFL’s first out gay player – his sexuality was already known in Sam’s college town of Columbia, Missouri, and among his University of Missouri teammates, whom the 6’2” defensive end informed last fall at the start of his senior season.
“They knew they could tell whoever they wanted to, but they didn’t,” Sam, who grew up in Hitchcock, Texas, said. “They kept it secret. They didn’t have to. I was out. I did my own thing. I had my boyfriend” – Vito Cammisano, a former athlete on the Missouri swim team.