Michael Sam tearfully accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY Awards in New York. In doing so, the former Missouri defensive end also ensured that viewers at the home would hold back tears of their own.
Sam will become the first openly gay player to play in an NFL game when he takes the field for the St. Louis Rams this upcoming season. But it was in offseason workouts in Columbia, Mo. where it all began, when he first revealed to his college teammates that he was gay before a season in which he would earn SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors.
It marked a seminal moment in the history of football, both college and professional.
Three things to live by
As he accepted the trophy from Dwayne Johnson, also known as "The Rock," Michael Sam gave the former Miami linebacker a tight hug. He looked down at the trophy, looked down to stifle his already burgeoning emotions, and simply said, "Wow."
He said that he has learned a lot about being part of a bigger picture, after a year spent coming out to his friends, family and teammates while under a national spotlight, which at times made him feel like he was 'living a massive storm.'
Before quoting Arthur Ashe, the award's namesake and a famous former tennis player, Sam apologized multiple times for being at the verge of tears.
He listed the three things Ashe had said were important, which he also agreed with: Stay where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.
To save a life
Michael Sam addressed that final edict, 'Do what you can,' by describing what he felt like was his life work and mission.
Sam said he feels like, at this moment in history, his job is to stand up for everyone who wants nothing more than to be themselves openly. Once he was asked to speak to his friend's sister, who was contemplating suicide because she was gay. His example in admitting his sexual orientation convinced her to say she would never hurt herself again.
"It's amazing to think that by just doing what we can, we can all touch, change and even save lives," he said.
Why it matters
At the end of his speech, Sam thanked many people. Credit went first to his friends and then his Missouri and St. Louis teammates and coaches. Then he mentioned his mother, who rose him along with seven other kids as a single parent.
But it was the last thanks which was the most moving of all: the appreciation he gave to his boyfriend, Vito Cammisano, who was in the crowd.
Cammisano has already made news once when he and Sam kissed on live television after learning that the Rams had selected Sam in the seventh-round of the NFL Draft.
"People tell me that I am an inspiration," Sam said to Cammisano. "But you are my inspiration."
A national debate emerged about whether the kiss was appropriate. Reaction seemed to be a litmus test of each person's personal feelings about gay rights and the intersection of real life with the world of sports.
Most importantly though, it pushed people to face a new reality. That reality culminated with a lesson learned for all, including for Sam.
"To anyone out there, especially young people, who don't feel like they fit in and will never be accepted, please know this," Sam said. "Great things can happen when you have the courage to be yourself."
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