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Congratulations to Michael Sam on Receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage Award
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 07/17/14
Last updated on: 07/17/14
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Michael Sam.

Congratulations to Michael Sam on receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2014 ESPY Awards, held at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles, on July 14. After a moving video, Sam, the first openly gay player drafted by the NFL, was presented the award by Dwayne Johnson and then, fighting back tears, delivered an emotional acceptance speech.

Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in May, thus making him likely to become the NFL's first openly gay active player. Co-captain of the University of Missouri Tigers, Sam led the team to a stellar 12-2 season in 2013, including a Cotton Bowl championship. He was a consensus All American and the Associated Press's defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference. His teammates voted him Missouri's most valuable player.

Despite his achievements, however, he was not chosen until the final round of the NFL's draft. Sam was passed over repeatedly before being chosen on the third and final day of the draft. He was the 249th player selected. He was the first SEC defensive player of the year since 2006 not to be drafted in the first round.

It is unclear whether the lateness of the pick reflected prejudice on the part of NFL scouts, wariness that as the league's first openly gay player he might prove a distraction, or the fact that he did not perform well during the NFL's scouting combine in February, soon after he publicly came out as gay.

A video depicting Sam and his boyfriend Vito Cammisano kissing to celebrate the long-awaited news that he was drafted by the Rams went viral and attracted criticism.

The Arthur Ashe Courage Award memorializes the late tennis player who was the first African-American male tennis player to win a Grand Slam tournament. Ashe was an activist for social justice, a conscience leader, and a humanitarian. The Courage Award honors individuals--usually sports figures--who exhibit conspicuous courage in facing personal and public challenges.

In accepting the honor, Sam said "This year I've had a lot of experience being part of something bigger than myself. At times, I've felt like I've been living in a massive storm, without knowing when the storm will end. I'm here tonight to tell you the lessons I learned about love, respect, being true to yourself will never leave me."

Sam built his acceptance speech around a quotation from Ashe, "Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can." These, he said, are "words to live by. Whether you're white or black. Young or old. Straight or gay."

He said, "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 an anecdote about a young woman who contemplated suicide rather than accepting her homosexuality. He said after they spoke, "she told me she would never consider hurting herself and that somehow my example helped her. It's amazing to think that, by just doing what we can, we can all touch, change and even save lives."

Among the people he thanked for their influence on his life was his boyfriend Vito Camissano, whom he described as his inspiration.

He concluded by promising "to spend the rest of my life trying my best to live up to this honor and become the best football player I can" and telling young people who might feel that "they don't fit in and will never be accepted, please know this: great things can happen when you have the courage to be yourself."

The video below documents the presentation and acceptance of ESPN's 2014 Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

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