First openly gay NFL player speaks on personal story, finds calling as an activist

Former University of Missouri star Michael Sam (pictured above) came to Geneseo on Thursday Nov. 8 to speak to students about his experience as the first openly gay NFL player. Sam discussed obstacles he encountered throughout his childhood that helped shape who he is today (Josie Kwan/assoc. photo editor).

Michael Sam, the first openly gay person to be drafted into the National Football League, spoke at Geneseo on Thursday Nov. 8.

Contemporary Forum Coordinator of Geneseo Campus Activities Board junior Jack Grant initiated the event by providing a brief background information on Sam and by introducing him as an icon as well as a pioneer for the LGBTQ+ community. 

Sam began the talk by asking audience members where they were from by a show of hands. Before going into detail about the early years of his life, he made the purpose of his presence clear.

“I’m here to tell you about my story from the source, not really what the media be telling you guys,” Sam said.  

Sam then opened up about his tumultuous childhood years and how they helped shape him. Following the deaths of his two oldest siblings, Sam’s father walked out on his family—leaving them in shambles. His brother Julian, as the next oldest male in the household, tried to pick up the broken pieces. For three years, Sam recounts his family thriving together.

In October 1998, Julian disappeared and was never found. After his disappearance, Sam’s family entered a spiral of destruction and his two other brothers contributed to this through their involvement with gangs, drugs and bad crowds. 

He suffered horrific bullying by his older brothers and recounts the abuse as isolating. Growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness, Sam lacked any support system. 

The abuse imposed by his brothers affected Sam’s personality, turning him into an angry individual. He played on his school’s football team, which allowed him to channel his anger and hatred. This time proved to be therapeutic for him and he went on to be recruited by the University of Missouri for a defensive line position. 

While playing for Missouri, Sam described the feeling of a constant burning he felt while trying to hide his true self. Afraid of what his teammates and family would think of him, Sam felt alone, and it wasn’t until his senior year that he came out to his teammates. 

The St. Louis Rams drafted Sam in the seventh round of the May 2014 draft. In February of the same year, Sam publicly came out on ESPN. In August, however, Sam was cut by the Rams. The Dallas Cowboys’s practice squad invited him to play, but he was later waived from the team. 

“[Getting cut from Dallas] was a little different. I knew I could play on that team, they needed me on that team as a pass rusher but because of politics, they let me go,” Sam said. “And that was personal. They say NFL is just business and yeah it is business, but what they did with me was personal.”

Although he believes that the NFL wronged him, Sam is grateful for the opportunities that football has provided for him.

“To be honest with you, for a long time I was negative towards the NFL but now it doesn’t do any good. I love football and everything I have now is because of the game. I love the game, it gave me a college education, it gave me a family, it gave me a little bit of money. And I’m very grateful for that,” Sam said. “Now I’m over it and moving on and hopefully the NFL will eventually grow and let players be themselves without any discrimination.” 

Following his football career, Sam found his true calling as an LGBTQ+ activist and motivational speaker. Sam discussed the role that social media has played in helping him read many people’s stories and save lives.

“If you need me to be a feminist, I’ll be a feminist. If you need me to be a bro, I’ll be your bro,” Sam said. “I’ll be whatever you need me to be, as long as I’m able to help.”