Michael Sam speaks on coming out, road to the NFL
Former University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, the first openly LGBTQIA* athlete to be drafted in the NFL, spoke to students about his journey in College Hall Thursday.
During the event, hosted by Congress of the South 40, Sam—the consensus All-American and Southeastern Conference (SEC) Defensive Player of the Year at Mizzou—described his path from childhood to the NFL before taking questions from students.
Sam began by discussing his turbulent childhood, during which his oldest sister and brother both died, his father abandoned the family and his other siblings bullied him, once burning his hand with an iron. Despite these hardships, Sam noted that his start in sports came out of his family life.
“The only good thing my dad ever did for me—besides having sex with my mom and giving birth to me—was to convince her to allow me to play sports,” Sam said. “Because if that never happened, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Parts of Sam’s speech were humorous, such as when he told a story of how he made his first impression on the football field in a game.
“They told me one play: Hit whoever has the ball,” Sam said. “My very first play as a football player, the ball is snapped, the quarterback hands the ball…and my first football play ever, I tackled my own teammate. I get up, started cheering, and I thought it was like I had just won the Super Bowl.”
Throughout high school, Sam developed much better awareness, both on the field and in the classroom. From there, he went to Mizzou, where he struggled with his sexuality despite his success on the field.
There, he met his boyfriend, Vito Cammisano, and the two dated happily. But when rumors of the couple started to pop up around campus, Sam tried to distance himself from Cammisano.
Toward the end of the relationship, Cammisano asked Sam a question which he today considers one of the most important in his life.
“When you look at yourself in the mirror, who do you see?” Cammisano asked Sam, according to the former Mizzou football player.
At the start of the next season, Sam and his teammates went through the usual introductions: name, major and fun fact. For Sam’s fun fact, he came out to his teammates, which was the first time he officially and openly acknowledged his sexuality.
His teammates embraced him. Next, Sam—pegged as a second or third round draft prospect for the 2014 NFL Draft—decided to come out publicly.
Sam ultimately became the first SEC Defensive Player of the Year in eight years drafted outside the first round, instead being drafted in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams, just eight picks before being shut out entirely. Sam thought he had earned a spot, but his NFL career fizzled out quickly after he was cut by the Rams and spent some time on the Dallas Cowboys practice squad.
Sam continues to believe that he was unfairly ousted from the NFL, but he said he does not regret coming out prior to the draft.
“I decided that instead of me trying to go to the NFL for my own selfish reasons, that I was going to go to the NFL for everyone who believes they cannot live their life the way they want to,” Sam said. “I’ll do it for them. I will be the sword, and I will be the shield. I will be whatever the hell you want me to be.”