Michael Sam was just another recruit when he left his small Texas hometown and arrived in Missouri. Playing for the Tigers, he turned into a private loquacious leader ready to make a trailblazing announcement.

The defensive star wants to become the first openly gay NFL player.

"I told him: This is going to be mammoth," coach Gary Pinkel said Monday, a day after Sam came out to the world. "I don't have a word, OK, for how big this is going to be."

It's a bigger deal for the older generation. Sam's teammates and acquaintances easily made the adjustment, plus he proved himself on the field.

"He's a leader," former 49ers running back Roger Craig said. "I would definitely welcome him on my team. ... I like people who stand up for themselves."

Sam revealed he was gay at one of the football team's get-acquainted dinners last summer hosted by Pinkel and assistant coaches. The next day, Pinkel said, Sam told the entire team.

Realizing the enormity of the situation, Pinkel left the next move up to the senior who blossomed into one of the best defensive ends in the country -- and one surrounded by teammates who didn't worry one bit about sexual orientation or reveal his secret until he came out on Sunday.

Pinkel, athletic director Mike Alden and other school officials applauded Sam's courage Monday.

The NFL and many others, including the White House, also publicly applauded Sam's decision. President Barack Obama's spokesman, first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden all called him a courageous and inspirational athlete.

Motor sports

NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Richard Petty says Danica Patrick can win a Sprint Cup Series race only "if everybody else stayed home." The seven-time champion made the comment during a Sunday appearance at the Canadian Motorsports Expo in Toronto, according to the website wheels.ca. Petty also said Patrick gets attention only because she's a woman but added that publicity is good for NASCAR.

Baseball

Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols and former major leaguer Jack Clark avoided a court battle when Clark issued a retraction and a public apology for comments he made last summer on a radio show accusing Pujols of using performance-enhancing drugs, the Los Angeles Times reported.

  • Diagnosed with cancer in his neck, Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan, 60, has taken leave from his job for treatment and recovery. The prognosis is optimistic.

    Miscellany

    Former pro football player and ex-ESPN analyst Hugh Douglas pleaded no contest and avoided jail in a Hartford, Conn., case alleging he assaulted his now-former girlfriend, who said she wasn't happy with the plea bargain.

  • A winter storm warning in the Atlanta area prompted U.S. soccer officials to postpone the U.S. women's exhibition game against Russia from Wednesday to Thursday at the Georgia Dome.