Michael Sam, the first NFL openly gay football player, gave an emotional speech after being presented with an ESPN sports award.
Last week, Sam was honoured with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the annual ESPY (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly) Awards, presented by the ESPN sports network.
Since 1993, the award has been presented “to individuals who have shown strength in the face of adversity and stood up for their beliefs.” It’s named after the late HIV positive tennis star and campaigner, Arthur Ashe, who died in 1993.
Actor and former wrestler Dwayne Johnson, also known as The Rock, presented Sam with the award. The athlete attended the event with his boyfriend Vito Cammisano.
“This year I had a lot of experience being a part of something bigger than myself,” said Sam in his acceptance speech. “At times I felt like I was part of a massive storm.”
He then went on to quote Ashe in three short sentences: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can,” adding emotionally, “Those are words to live by, whether you’re black or white, young or old, straight or gay.”
Fighting back tears, Sam revealed that a friend recently asked him to speak to his sister who had considered suicide because she was too scared to tell her loved ones that she is gay.
“When we spoke she told me she would never consider hurting herself again and that somehow my example helped her. It’s amazing to think that by doing just what we can, we can all touch, change and even save lives.”
“To anyone out there, especially young people feeling like they don’t fit in and will never be accepted,” Sam told the audience, “know this: great things can happen when you have the courage to be yourself.”
A college sports star, Sam came out as gay in February, just before the professional football selection season. He was finally chosen by the St. Louis Rams in May. The celebratory kiss he shared with Cammisano on live television when he heard the news led to a media frenzy and much controversy.
Watch Sam’s speech below.