6 Times Arthur Ashe Award Winner Michael Sam Proved His Courage
BY Michelle Garcia
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.”