University of Missouri senior defensive end Michael Sam on Sunday became the most prominent, and apparently the first, active male athlete on the major U.S. sports scene to publicly disclose that he’s gay.

His declaration to two national media outlets Sunday night was a bold contradiction of stereotypes and possibly stakes new ground in what might be termed the civil rights issue of our time.

The 2013 defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference, the nation’s roughest and best, was a gay man, and it’s sure hard to reconcile that with the enduring and mean-spirited myth of sissification.

Sam’s announcement surely was no surprise for Mizzou football teammates or coaches, to whom he had come out, and others around campus.

But his right to privacy was honored by multiple media outlets, including The Star, as a simple matter of his choice to publicly discuss it or not.

“Shout out to my former Teammate Michael Sam,” former Tiger Trey Hobson posted as Twitter buzzed with the news Sunday night. “Though its old news to us its a Great move by a great guy. …”

His decision at last to do so, and how to do it, evidently came in the last few weeks as Sam almost simultaneously told his story to ESPN and The New York Times on Sunday.

“Once I became official to my teammates, I knew who I was,” Sam told The Times. “I knew that I was gay. And I knew that I was Michael Sam, who’s a Mizzou football player who happens to be gay. I was so proud of myself and I just didn’t care who knew. If someone on the street would have asked me, ‘Hey, Mike, I heard you were gay; is that true?’ I would have said yes.”

Sam’s decision to go public makes him potentially a pioneering face and force in the gathering movement for equality at a time when acceptance of gay rights is emerging legally and socially but intolerance still rages.

Even if his impetus to do so may have been less about taking a courageous step for gays than it might have been as a necessary pre-emptive maneuver regarding his NFL prospects, the risk and prospective impact and fallout are the same.

As a projected third-or-fourth-round NFL pick (though one some consider an in-between size for a pro defensive end at 6 feet 2 and 255 pounds) Sam figures to be in a visible position going forward.

While he likely will be targeted by some groups, Sam’s stature also might stand as a further example and hope for those who are bullied for being different or suffer in silence rather than risk the consequences of bigotry.

Just what it might mean in the most practical sense — his budding NFL career — is an unknown, as one AFC executive, speaking in generalities, told The Star.

“You’ve got 32 different entities, 32 different teams,” he said. “Everybody drafts players differently. Now, with that being said, we’re now in a new era … of football where stuff like this is becoming part of the fabric of society.

“The bottom line is, can the guy still play? I think history has shown that if you can play and contribute, depending on the locker room, it will be accepted.”

He added, “We’re at a crossroads with regards to these types of players.”