First Openly Gay NFL Player Michael Sam Shares His Story Of Adversity And Triumph At SPA Event
Michael Sam began his 2017 tour across the country as part of the SPA Distinguished Speaker series Wednesday night in front of a crowd in Alumni Hall.
Sam, a former University of Missouri football star, publicly came out as gay on ESPN on February 9, 2014. In his senior season, Sam was a consensus All-American and SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Many believed he was primed to be an early round pick, but after publicly coming out, he fell to the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round.
Sam began his presentation by talking about his family. He was one of eight kids; five sons and three daughters. His family was broken before he was even born. His oldest sister died as a toddler and his oldest brother was shot for trespassing when Sam was five years old. Soon after, Sam’s father left the family and his second oldest brother took lead of the family for the next three years. One day his brother helped Sam and his sister onto the bus and that was the last they saw of him. Years later, the family finally declared him deceased.
Sam’s other two brothers got into the gang life and constantly threatened Sam and his sisters. School became a safe haven for him. In middle school, the coaches saw how big Sam was and urged him to play football. The biggest problem was that Sam’s mother was a Jehovah’s Witness and said no to sports. Sam’s father somehow convinced his mother to allow him to play sports so he eventually learned to play football, basketball, and track in middle school.
Sam was chosen to play varsity football as a freshman, but had no interest in playing the sport in college. He got his first interest from Oklahoma State, but was told his grades were not good enough to play football. After two years of hard work, Sam was able to play at the Division I level for Missouri.
Sam said he was attracted to the same sex in high school, but had no one to talk to there. Once he got to college, he experimented and knew he was gay, but did not want to admit until he fell in love. Rumors started to spread and it affected his play on the field. It was not until he went to a pride event in St. Louis and was not judged that he decided he wanted to be like that back on campus.
Sam eventually told his team before the start of his senior season that he was gay and was welcomed with congratulations and support, although many knew before he announced it to the team. That season, he led the nation in sacks and tackles for loss, and was able to do it as an out man.
After some advice from his publicist and agents, Sam publicly announced to the world that he was gay. Sam wanted to just announce it to the team that would draft him, but his publicist insisted on him doing it on a public scale. Weeks after the announcement, Sam performed terribly in the combine and started slipping on draft boards.
When Sam got back to campus, a former teammate asked him to speak to his cousin. His cousin shared with him that he saved her life, as she tried to kill herself twice. Emotionally, this was the moment that Sam knew he could be an advocate and would protect those that cannot protect themselves.
After being drafted in the seventh round, Sam had doubts about how he came out, but went into the preseason with the Rams ready to prove himself. After leading the Rams in the preseason in sacks, he was disappointed to find out he was being cut. After stints with the Cowboys practice squad and in the Canadian Football League, Sam decided to step away from sports in 2015.
He finished up the speech with a Q&A session and left us with this quote by Horace Mann, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”