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Dallas Cowboys sign defensive end Michael Sam to practice squad

By Jon Herskovitz

(Reuters) - Defensive end Michael Sam, hoping to become the first openly gay athlete to play in a regular-season game in the National Football League, was signed on Wednesday to the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad, the team said.

Sam then took to the team's practice field in Irving, Texas, outside Dallas, wearing a No. 46 Cowboys jersey.

Head Coach Jason Garrett told a news conference the rookie from the University of Missouri would be a member of the 10-man practice squad. Sam was cut last week by the St. Louis Rams, who had drafted him in the seventh and final round of the NFL draft in May.

"We have had nothing but good reports about him from our people and people in St. Louis," Garrett said. "We just want to give him a chance to come in and see if he can help our football team."

The 6-foot-2 (1.88-m), 260-pound (118-kg) Sam became the first openly gay player to be selected in the NFL draft.

But despite his success at Missouri, talent evaluators have said Sam might struggle in the NFL - perhaps too small to play regularly on the defensive line and not athletic enough to play as a linebacker.

"He was a very good player in college. His track record speaks for itself," Garrett said.

Each NFL team has a 10-member practice squad that helps it prepare for games. When teams face injuries, they often look to practice squad players to fill out their game-day rosters as short-term help.

Sam, a Texas native, could prove to be a useful backup for the Cowboys because of their strong need for help on defense, which was the bottom-ranked unit in the NFL in the 2013 season.

Sam thanked the Cowboys and the city of Dallas for giving him a chance.

"As a kid growing up in Texas I always loved the Dallas Cowboys, so to join this incredible organization is really a dream come true," he wrote on his Twitter feed.

There is currently only one openly gay player in North America's four major professional sports leagues - Jason Collins, who joined the National Basketball Association's Brooklyn Nets last season.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Bill Trott and Peter Cooney)

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