Michael Sam spoke to a crowd of about 150 in Alumni Hall on Penn State’s campus Tuesday night about finding one’s self and loving who they are no matter what others think.
Sam’s speech was part of the Student Programming Association’s 2017-18 Distinguished Speaker Series.
Sam told the full story of his adversity-filled childhood and how he came to love himself as a homosexual man. He encouraged audience members to also love themselves, regardless of what they’re enduring.
“I will never, ever be ashamed of who I am,” Sam said. “I will always love my truth and I will always love myself.”
The 27-year-old became the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL team when the St. Louis Rams selected him in the seventh round of the 2014 draft. Sam came out as gay publicly a few months prior to the draft during an ESPN interview.
Sam said during his speech that he didn’t believe telling the world he was gay was even a big deal. He didn’t realize the impact it had on people’s lives until he talked to a Missouri teammate’s cousin after the NFL Combine in 2014.
She thanked Sam for his bravery and told him she attempted suicide twice before his revelation because she was bullied constantly. She told Sam he saved her life.
“I decided then I would be the shield and the sword for those people,” Sam said. “From then on, I vowed I would be there whenever you need me to be.”
Sam also talked at length about his troubled childhood in Hitchcock, Texas.
He had seven siblings growing up, but his older sister died before he was born and two of his brothers died before he turned 12. Two of his other brothers got involved in multiple illegal activities and Sam hasn’t seen them in years.
Despite a challenging upbringing, Sam became just one of two children in the family to graduate from high school. He said that day meant even more to him than the day he was drafted.
“Walking up to get my diploma and seeing my mom in the crowd crying — that was the proudest moment of my life,” Sam said.
Sam went on to become an All-American defensive end at the University of Missouri. He led the SEC in sacks his senior year.
After playing for the Rams and Dallas Cowboys in the NFL and the Montreal Alouttes in the CFL, Sam has since moved on from professional football.
Sam answered a few questions from the audience after telling his life story.
One student said she feels alone sometimes at school and that Sam helped boost her confidence with his speech. Sam was moved so much by her words that he jumped off stage and gave the student a bear hug, and the audience clapped enthusiastically.
Jack Dougherty is a Penn State journalism student.