Michael Sam: The Defensive End of LGBTQIA Awareness

March 28, 2017

By Jonathan De Leon

Michael Sam spoke to the Dominican community about his life and the challenges that it brought on March 23 in the Lund. The former University of Mizzou defensive end was the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL franchise.

Sam opened the evening, prefacing his story by saying, “It’s a story about adversity, it’s a story about perseverance…it’s my story.” Sam went on to discuss his childhood, growing up in a family of five boys and three girls. His parents were an odd couple, as his dad was a Baptist and mom a Jehovah’s Witness. 

He also shared how he dealt with the adversity of losing family members like one of his brothers, who was shot in Texas for trespassing. 

His other brothers, Josh and Chris, had drugs and loaded guns all over the house, which Sam and his younger sister slept by every night.

However, Sam decided to get involved in football in middle school. During his first play, he tackled his own teammate. 

“They told me to hit the guy with the ball,” Sam explained to the crowd while laughing. Sam was supposed to be on defense but was inserted in the offensive line after an injury.  

Sam then began to study the game of football and had an admiration for former Texas Longhorns and Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young, among others. 

When Sam got to high school he continued to excel on the football field, which lead to his first scholarship offer from the University of Oklahoma. He knew he wanted to go to college to play football and continue his education. However, Sam had to work extremely hard to bring his grades up and took the ACT and SAT multiple times. Sam was also trying to be the first in his family to go to college. 

Sam stated that the proudest moment of his life was when he put a smile on his mother’s face as he received his high school diploma. 

When deciding whether to go to Missouri, he felt “the universe was telling him to go.”

This is when his curiosity started to increase in terms of his sexuality. He began experimenting when he got to Missouri in 2009, where he confirmed with himself he was gay. However, he kept his sexuality a secret from his teammates, coach and even his family. 

Missouri provided Sam with an atmosphere of comfort. At his first pride event in St. Louis he felt at home and was surprised how everyone was so happy and free. 

Just before Sam’s senior season, he decided to come out to his teammates during new and current player introductions. Sam’s teammates and coaches were fully supportive and happy for him. Sam said this was the first time he really felt like he was being his true self. 

After coming out, Sam shared a moment with the audience that he will never forget. One of Sam’s college teammates ask him to take a phone call with their cousin. The teammates cousin told Sam that he saved her life. She had been bullied over her sexuality and attempted suicide twice. She told him that he gave her strength. Sam was overcome with emotion and became sad realizing that this is how the world treats those that are different.      

Coming off a 5-7 season the previous season, Sam came in focused and put together a fantastic season, leading the nation in sacks. Their record reflected it as well with a 12-2 mark, with losses only to Auburn and South Carolina. They also participated in the Cotton Bowl, which they won. 

With everything said and done, Sam now turned to the NFL hoping to continue his career. After a disappointing showing at the NFL Draft Combine but a bounce back effort at the Missouri pro day, Sam’s focus was on the NFL Draft.

“I figured I wouldn’t be a first rounder, but a second or third round seemed reasonable,” Sam said. 

Unfortunately, Sam would have to wait all the way until the seventh round and nearly one of the last picks of the draft. That’s when the St. Louis Rams (now the Los Angeles Rams) drafted Sam. 

“It was a stressful experience,” Sam said. “Six teams were supposed to pick me and not one of them was St. Louis.” 

After the draft was training camp, and Sam had to work hard to both make the roster and prove to his new teammates that he could play and was not a sideshow. Sam said the most difficult challenge coming from college to the pros was “the speed of the game.” After a couple weeks, Rams players begin to trust in Sam and invited him to gatherings and other events. 

Sam was cut by the Rams before the season started, despite leading the lead in several preseason statistics. He was then picked up by the Dallas Cowboys for a short time but never saw the field and was eventually cut again. Sam then went to play for a CFL team in Montreal, however Sam didn’t like the organization and didn’t want to continue playing there.  Though Sam never played an official snap in the NFL, his journey and story has inspired countless others in the LGBT community and he has become a celebrity to them. 

Sam believes there will eventually be a breakthrough in the sports world for gay players to leave their mark without being judged. 

“Sports leagues can’t silence them forever, when people finally do come out, they will in groups,” Sam said. Sam also said they were players in the league already that were gay but didn’t say any specific players. 

Michael Sam realized his gift was to help others and share his experiences, as he continues to look for what’s next in life for him.  “Everything happens for a reason,” Sam said. 

 delejona@my.dom.edu