Michael Sam visits Bryant (James Imrie)

On Thursday February 23rd, Bryant was lucky enough to welcome Michael Sam to campus to share his story and experience as the first openly gay player in the NFL. Sam also shared meaningful anecdotes from his childhood and football career, and provided inspiring stories of triumph and accepting who you are.

Many know Michael Sam for his uplifting story surrounding the 2014 NFL draft. Just a couple of months before the draft, Sam came out to the world in an interview with ESPN. Being the first openly gay athlete in the National Football League, his story was made famous not just in the NFL but in the world of professional sports as a whole. While this may be the most well-known part of his story, Sam also shared with us what his life was like growing up in a family filled with hardships, as well as his roadblocks with the NFL.

As a child, Michael Sam faced many difficult setbacks with his home-life, starting with his oldest sister dying when he was a baby. One of his older brothers died when Sam was just five years old when he was shot for trespassing near their family home. “In Texas, you can pull a gun on somebody when they step onto your property, and my brother was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Sam recalled in front of the Bryant crowd. His father abandoned his family when he was still young, and Sam was left under the care of his busy mother and abusive older brothers. One of his older brothers went missing in 1998, and never was heard from by the Sam family again.

When he started high school, Sam was surprised when the football coach reached out to him to ask if he’d join the team. Other coaches, like the basketball and track coaches, also reached out to Sam when word spread of his athletic ability. Sam had never played any sport before due to the fact that he was raised by his mother, a Jehovah’s Witness. Sam was able to convince his mom of the importance and value to playing football, especially when she saw how it made him a better person and kept him out of trouble.

Sam continued his football career to Missouri, where he decided to come out at the beginning of his fifth season of play. “It was the first time I was truly Michael Sam” he recalls, describing how he came out to his teammates during a team activity where everyone said something no one knew about them. When he came out, Sam was surprised by his teammates support, but also wanted to keep his sexuality out of public eye. He wasn’t interested in coming out to the world before he made it into the NFL, but his publicist, who also worked as a gay advocate, convinced Sam to be true to himself.

After coming out before the draft, Sam faced many setbacks in his career. Sam was drafted at the end of the seventh round by St. Louis, which was against predictions that he would be drafted in the second or third round. Sam was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year his last year at Missouri, so the late draft was a shock to him and his supporters. After the draft, Sam faced even more criticism when he was cut from the St. Louis without ever making the roster, He was later signed by the Cowboys, but was again cut soon after. He played in the Canadian Football League in 2015, but decided to leave his team, the Montreal Alouettes during the season when he didn’t feel like he was truly happy.

During his presentation at Bryant, Sam talked about his disappointment with the NFL and their mistreatment of him after coming out. He went on to discuss how part of his career and life after football has been being able to forgive the people who he has resented throughout his life. He listed off people like his Dad, his brothers, and the NFL, and described how he needed to be able to forgive them so that they didn’t take up so much of his time and thoughts. Sam describes a better way of life since forgiving these people in his life, especially his family members that mean so much to him.

Sam came to Bryant as part of his post-NFL career, where he is currently focused on aiding the LGBTQ community by telling his story and being there for athletes and the anyone who needs guidance. Sam is currently touring different parts of the country to tell his story, as well keeping his eye on the policies and conflict the LGBTQ community faces in politics. When asked about his current focus, Sam turned to the activism side of the LGBTQ community. “Now that President Trump is our President, a lot of things are at risk in our community, the LGBTQ community,” said Sam, who hopes that he can speak to people and communicate his message to the general public during a time of anger for many different groups in America.

For his future career, Sam admits that he still does not know what his career goal is in life. “I still haven’t found my niche” said Sam, who is enjoying his time giving speeches, but is looking forward to taking time in the future to go home and figure out what he wants to do next. For now, Sam is happy spreading his story and inspiring people to not only feel comfortable being themselves, but also creating allies out of those who aren’t a part of the LGBTQ community. To end his speech, Sam thanked everyone for coming to see him speak, stating to the crowd that “by being in the room tonight, you are showing that you’re an ally and an advocate. You’re showing you’re an ally to all”.

Author Kaitlyn Graham pictured with Michael Sam (photo by James Imrie)