LOS ANGELES (KMOX) – St. Louis Rams draftee Michael Sam delivered a moving speech upon receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYS Wednesday night.
The former Missouri defensive end announced earlier this year that he is gay. He will try to make the Rams’ roster when training camp opens, and if he does, he would be the NFL’s first openly gay player.
Throughout his speech, Sam teared up, and his voice faltered at times.
“The Arthur Ashe Courage Award is a big honor—much bigger than just me,” he said.
Sam’s acceptance speech was structured around a famous line from the tennis icon, who was known for fighting discrimination and advocating for AIDS awareness.
“Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can,” Sam quoted.
He noted, “Those were the words to live by, whether you’re black or white, young or old, straight or gay.”
Sam said he was grateful for Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel and his high school coach Craig Smith, who knew his story and “did everything humanly possible to give it a better ending.”
Sam said that football raised him and taught him about hard work, and encouraged listeners to follow whatever passion or talent they have.
“I followed mine, and it got me all the way to this stage here tonight, so I can look out and see so many of my heroes looking back at me,” he said.
Sam said he has a responsibility to stand up for everyone out there who wants nothing more than to be themselves openly. He then shared an experience in which a friend asked him to speak to his sister, who was considering killing herself rather than share with her loved ones that she was gay. To massive applause, Sam said that his example had helped the woman reconsider.
“Great things can happen when you have the courage to be yourself,” he told the audience before leaving the stage.
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