Despite being visibly overcome with emotion, and stumbling slightly over his words, Michael Sam delivered an emotional speech after accepting the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2014 ESPY Awards.
The 24-year-old Sam gained nationwide attention for being the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL. He is a rookie defensive end for the St. Louis Rams. He was a consensus All-American and the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year during his senior year with the University of Missouri.
“Whatever passion or talent you have, follow it. 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.”
Sam evoked the words of Arthur Ashe through his speech.
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“Arthur Ashe said, ‘Do what you can.’ Those have been very meaningful words to me,” Sam said. “In the way I see it, my responsibility at this moment in history is to stand up for everybody out there who wants nothing more than to be themselves openly.”
He told the story of a friend who asked him to speak with his sister. She was contemplating suicide over revealing that she was gay, but said that Sam’s inspiration convinced her to never consider killing herself as an option again.
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“It’s amazing to think that just by doing what we can, we can all touch, change, and even save lives,” he said. “Finally, to anyone out there; especially young people; feeling like they don’t fit in and would never be accepted, please know this: Great things can happen when you have the courage to be yourself.”