On Tuesday evening (Dec. 6), former NFL player Michael Sam spoke in front of a crowd of students and faculty members at the Stern Center Ballroom discussing his upbringing as the first openly-LGBT athlete in any major American sport.
The former Dallas Cowboy and St. Louis Ram, also played in the Canadian Football League with the Montreal Alouettes, and in college, he was a member of the University of Missouri Tigers. Tuesday’s visit marked his first visit to the Palmetto State since 2012, when he faced the University of South Carolina Gamecocks in an SEC match up in Columbia, S.C. His visit to the College of Charleston, organized by the Offices of Student Life and Multicultural Student Programs and Services, marked his final visit to college institutions across the nation during the fall semester.
Sam’s story began as a young boy in the small town of Hitchcock, Texas, approximately an hour-long drive away from Houston. As a child, Sam did not begin playing sports until seventh grade due to his family being Jehovah’s Witnesses’. Though his mother was hesitant towards her son putting on the pads in middle school, Sam emerged to play football through his high school years, eventually obtaining offers from various NCAA football programs across the nation.
During his time at Missouri, he was a Sports Management major. A four-year defensive end, he earned various accolades during his time as a Tiger including SEC Defensive Player of the Year and All-American honors in 2013 and the Arthur Ashe Courage Award in 2014. His performance in college eventually led to him being scouted by various NFL teams at the 2014 draft.
Sam did not realize he was homosexual until he was in high school, and during the summer of 2009, he experimented.
“When I got to high school, I started having attractions to the same sex, I didn’t really know what it was; I was confused. As I got older, these feelings I was having were getting stronger.”
Unsure of what to do, Sam continued to hide his secret.
“I didn’t know if I should tell my coaches, my team or anyone. After a while of debating, I decided to bury it deep and when I graduate and get my college diploma, then I was going to come out. At that time, I didn’t even think I was going to make it to the NFL.”
But thanks in part to Sam’s stout defensive play, the Tigers burst onto the national spotlight.
“Our coach was on the hot-seat, we were picked to go last in our division, and no one saw us making it anywhere close to the SEC championship,” Sam said regarding the 2013 season. “We took a 5-7 team and turned it into a 12-2 team, we were a quarter-shy from the national championship game and we fell short to Auburn.”
Following Sam’s hour-long discussion regarding the events took place within his life, a question and answer session was opened to the crowd. Topics discussed included his position on the University of Missouri football team lockout last season, his competition with Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, and which team he presently supports in the NFL.
One attendee asked about his stance on the St. Louis Rams essentially dumping the state of Missouri and whether he still supports his former team in their new home in Los Angeles.
“I am a supporter of the Rams because they are the team who drafted me. I don’t have a favorite team because growing up, I was a defensive guy, so I just loved (watching) great defenses,” he said. “I never did like the Cowboys because my dad liked the Cowboys and I wanted to be everything against my dad. The Rams will always have a special place in my heart and I even have my draft (trading) card framed from when I was the 249th pick (in the 2014 Draft).”
Presently, Sam is a NFL free agent. Speaking on what the future holds career-wise and if he would consider representing other professional athletes as an agent, Sam said: “I have several career opportunities I want to explore. Coaching is one of them. If I do go into that, I don’t want to have (to deal with) the same media frenzy again; I don’t think I would. Coaching is the only thing I want to do with football. I love the sport and I love the game.”