Sam played football for the University of Missouri, where he first came out publicly to his team.
“My name is Michael Sam, I’m from Hitchcock, Texas, my major is sports management and I’m gay,” Sam said he told his team.
He came out to the world on Feb. 9, 2014, before drafts for the NFL began.
“I thought it wasn’t going to be a big deal — I was like, you know, I’m gonna come out, it’s gonna be a week or two, and then something else was gonna happen,” Sam said. “Well, it wasn’t like that at all — it was a big deal.”
When he went back to the University of Missouri to improve his football skills before draft picks, he was approached by a teammate whose cousin wanted to talk to him.
“She said, ‘I wanted to let you know that you saved my life,’” Sam said. “Turns out she had tried to commit suicide because she was gay and she couldn’t handle the bullying anymore.”
This conversation changed the way Sam saw his role as an athlete. He said he was no longer trying to play in the NFL for his own ego but rather as an inspiration to others who are struggling with their identity.
“After that conversation I said, you know, I will be the sword and shield, and I will be the voice of those who doesn’t have a voice for themselves,” Sam said.
After being drafted for the St. Louis Rams and then the Dallas Cowboy’s practice team in 2014, Sam has not been on an NFL roster. He said he is on a spiritual journey working to forgive the people in his life who have not been supportive. The first person he forgave was his father, who disavowed him after he came out. Next, he forgave his brothers who had abused him for being different when he was a child.
First-year Alex Manwill said they came to the event to observe National Coming Out Day.
“Obviously, this is extremely pertinent today, but also just anyone who can be someone to break boundaries with and feel good and just, like, whether it has do with their orientation or something that they do — it’s amazing to be yourself and just, like, accept yourself,” Manwill said. “It’s cool to see someone who had a story that was exactly like mine.”
Jason Gershgorn, a sophomore, said he came to the lecture because of the representation of Sam in the media.
“I came to see Michael Sam because ever since seeing his really controversial kiss — you know, that was kind of portrayed in the media for a long time — I wanted to see what his experiences were being so publicized and things like that,” Gershgorn said.