By Michelle Garcia
Originally published on Advocate.com July 17 2014 4:26 PM ET
Newly signed NFL player Michael Sam received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY Awards Wednesday night, and when his acceptance speech was done, not a dry eye was left in the house (including his). Watch the speech below and just embrace the tears in your eyes.
“To anyone out there, especially young people feeling like they don’t fit in, or that they'd never be accepted, remember this: Great things can happen when you have the courage to be yourself,” Sam said Wednesday night.
The award is named for late tennis great Arthur Ashe, who said, "Start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can." Sam said those words were words to live by, "whether you’re white or black. Young or old. Straight or gay."
Sam earned that award after years of playing football, coming out to his teammates, enduring a tricky draft process, and remaining confident, all while becoming an inspirational figure for so many, especially LGBT athletes. Here are just a few of the moments in the last few months that got him to the ESPYs.
1. When He Came Out
Just as Michael Sam was about to dive into the draft process, the defensive lineman for the University of Missouri came out as gay in The New York Times. Sam's decision to come out was the first indicator that the guy has some chutzpah. He had come out to his coaches and teammates during the preseason.
"Once I became official to my teammates, I knew who I was," he said in February. "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."
2. When He Nailed the NFL Combine Press Conference
While many critiqued his on-field performance at the NFL Combine for football hopefuls, Sam showed nothing but courage at the press conference that week. He was met with several questions about his sexual orientation and how that might affect him being on a team, but he expressed confidence that as a pro, he could handle any homophobic reactions he might run into. “I’ve been in locker rooms with all kinds of slurs being said,” he said. “I don’t think anyone means it. As time goes on, everyone will adapt.”
Asked if slurs would lead to a fight, Sam was incredulous, according to NFL.com blogger Michael Shapiro. “A fight?” Sam said. “If somebody wants to call me a name, I’ll have a conversation with that guy and hopefully it will lead to nothing else.”
3. When He Gave a Smooch to His Boyfriend After Getting Drafted
It was the kiss seen 'ound the world. After getting word that he was drafted in May, Sam was televised gleefully celebrating with his boyfriend, Vito Cammisano. Tons of conservative commentators freaked out about it, but lots of people found it honestly heartwarming.
4. When His Fans Stood by Him
Supporters of gay football player Michael Sam rallied to block the view of picketers from the Westboro Baptist Church during a basketball game that Sam was attending. Sam's supporters — possibly more than 1,000 people — lined up outside the University of Missouri stadium with signs, flags, and T-shirts proclaiming their solidarity. Eventually, Sam's allies went inside for the game, where, during halftime, Missouri's football team was honored for its victory at the Cotton Bowl over Oklahoma State.
5. When He Stood by His Fans
After he was first drafted by the St. Louis Rams in May, Sam said he was ready to fight to officially make the roster in the fall. And while Sam knows the mantle of the Gay Jackie Robinson is quite heavy, he knows he has to stand up for fans who stand up for him. At his first press conference after being drafted by the Rams, he told the story of a young boy tearfully coming out to his father after Sam was drafted. He said he felt honored by the story and that he is glad to help others feel comfortable with who they are. But he added, "If somebody disowned you, hey, be part of my family. I welcome you. Ram up."
6. When He Signed That Contract
Less than a week before being signed, Michael Sam told a group of reporters after practice, “I’m doing pretty good.” It would appear he was correct. In June, Sam was officially signed by the Rams. He was offered a four-year, $2.65 million contract.