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Michael Sam quits professional football

Michael Sam is stepping away from pro football.

Sam, the first openly gay player drafted by the NFL, has told the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes that he is leaving the team.

“The last 12 months have been very difficult for me, to the point where I became concerned with my mental health,” Sam tweeted today. “Because of this I am going to step away from the game at this time.”

The Alouettes confirmed in a release that Sam has left the club for “personal reasons” and that he has been added to the team’s suspended list.

He did not play in Montreal’s home loss to Edmonton on Thursday night, with the team citing a sore back. He made his CFL debut the previous week.

The 25-year-old defensive end, the 2013 Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year at Missouri, failed to record a tackle in Montreal’s loss to Ottawa.

Sam agreed to a two-year deal with the Alouettes this summer. He left training camp June 12, citing personal reasons, and sat out the team’s first five games.

Sam was selected in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL draft by the Rams, did not make the team, and spent some time on the Cowboys’ practice squad before being released.

Rams cut gay defensive lineman Michael Sam

Out football player Michael Sam was one of 21 players who were cut by the St. Louis Rams today, but coach Jeff Fisher said the decision had nothing to do with Sam’s sexual orientation.

“I will tell you this: I was pulling for Mike,” Fisher told reporters. “I really was, and I don’t say that very often. Mike came in here and did everything we asked him to do.”

A defensive lineman at the University of Missouri, Sam came out publicly following his final season at the school, where he earned the title of SEC co-defensive player of the year. He’d been projected to be a mid-round draft pick, but the Rams took him with the 249th overall pick out of 256. His teammates already knew he was gay.

Sam’s sexual orientation had proved no distraction for that team, which tied its record with 12 wins and won the SEC Eastern Division during a season in which Sam had 11 1-2 sacks.

Publicly at least, the Rams seemed to welcome Sam and enjoy his presence.

The larger public, however, had mixed reactions to Sam, especially after he kissed his boyfriend on television when the Rams announced that he was being drafted.

ESPN recently stirred the pot with a story asking his teammates how they felt sharing a locker room and showering with a gay man. The sports network later apologized for creating a sensation around something that apparently wasn’t an issue.

Shortly after he was drafted, Sam’s Rams jersey became the No. 2 seller among online among those of rookies, trailing only Cleveland’s Johnny Manziel. Sam was among just 10 draftees selected by the NFL to be featured on commemorative coins.

At the ESPY Awards, where he received the Arthur Ashe Courage award, Sam was embraced by Hall of Famer Jim Brown on his way to the stage and fought back tears throughout his speech.

He told the audience: “Great things can happen when you have the courage to be yourself.”

The Associated Press reported that, in the end, Sam just failed to cut it as a defensive end on a team stocked with pass rushers. He lost his sport to Ethan Westbrooks, who was undrafted but proved more productive and more versatile.

Fisher said he still believes that Sam has an NFL future, and it still could be with the Rams. If he’s not picked up by another team, he could land on the St. Louis practice squad.

“I can’t go there right now,” Fisher said. “Coaches don’t talk about practice squads because we have to see what happens. We’ll know better tomorrow afternoon.”

Wherever he lands, Fisher said, “there will be no challenge, no challenges whatsoever.”