On Thursday, former NFL player and LGBTQ activist, Michael Sam, spoke at McLeod Hall in the final installment of UVa Engineering’s Excellence Through Diversity Distinguished Learning Series.
Susan Kools, Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, introduced the well-known speaker. The School of Nursing co-sponsored the initiative.
Kools lauded the LGBT Committee at UVa for calling attention to healthcare needs of the LGBTQ population. She also congratulated the committee for their efforts in making the university a more inclusive environment through their work with student housing, employee and student health benefits, and gender neutral bathrooms.
When Michael Sam took the stage, he told the audience that he is a very honest person.
“I will be very vulnerable this evening,” he warned. “My story is about owning your truth, perseverance and self discovery.”
In 2014, Sam was drafted into the NFL by the St. Louis Rams–he became the first openly gay football player to be drafted. Sam’s fame led him to join Season 20 of Dancing With the Stars in 2015. Nevertheless, Sam’s journey was not easy.
Sam experienced a difficult childhood. His older sister died before he was born. In 1995, his older brother was shot and killed while trespassing on a property in Texas. Afterwards,his father walked out on the rest of his family. In 1998, another brother of Sam’s disappeared and was pronounced dead two years later. By the time Michael was 11, his other brothers were involved with drugs and gangs. They abused Sam and his sisters.
During high school, Sam developed a passion for football and received a great deal of attention for his talent. The young man struggled to raise his grades but through hard work, was eventually recruited by the University of Missouri. Out of eight children, Sam was just the second to receive his high school diploma.
Regarding his sexuality, Sam said he was attracted to men in high school and started experimenting once he went to college. Sam began dating a swimmer at school, Vito Cammisano. This relationship was known by few at the time.
“Dating that guy was like living in a fairy tale. I never felt this love before in my life,” Sam noted.
Sam however, distanced himself from Cammisano once rumors spread about the two of them dating following their spring break trip together. At Mizzou, Sam and his team went on to win the Cotton Bowl.
Sam decided to come out to ESPN on February 9th, 2014. His teammates already knew he was gay and Sam figured that: “what’s going to come out eventually…why not come out now?”
ESPN awarded Sam with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, which resulted in some skepticism from the award recipient himself.
“I didn’t do anything special..I didn’t do it for anyone but myself,” he explained.
Sam’s mentality soon changed after he started to receive thousands of emails from people who shared their stories about sexuality. The NFL player quickly realized that many people were in situations more severe than his and were deeply suffering.
Leading up to the draft, Sam knew he would not be a first round pick because he was openly gay. Sam started to regret his decision to come out when he was not selected after the second and third rounds. It was not until the end of the seventh round that St. Louis picked him.
After Sam was drafted, the media captured Sam kissing Cammisano and published stories with headlines like “Michael Sam Kisses his Boyfriend”
“Who the hell was I supposed to kiss?,” Sam jokingly asked the audience.
In the fall of 2016, Sam gave up football and became involved with the “party crowd” in Los Angeles. He quickly became very depressed. Sam described this period as a time where he lost his way and needed spiritual discovery. Sam decided to take an Ayahuasca retreat in Peru centered around moral healing.
Sam told the audience how the healing process begins with forgiveness. In Sam’s case, he needed to forgive his father, his brothers, and the NFL.
“I am not perfect at all…But I try to live a good life,” he explained.
After thanking the audience for listening to his story, Sam urged everyone to be nice to one another because everyone endures struggles.
“I detest bullies…Life is more important than anything in this world. Life is beautiful,” said Sam.
Sam’s speech was followed by a question and answer period in which the former NFL star revealed that he hopes to make a comeback into the football world.