It’s been nearly five years since Michael Sam, now 29 years old, was drafted by the St. Louis Rams. He wasn’t drafted until the seventh round, but the player made headlines because he had already ‘come out’ as a gay man, making him the first gay man ever drafted into the NFL. Earlier this week, during a speech at the University of New Mexico, Michael Sam said he regrets his decision to come out when he did.
Sam got candid during the speaking engagement, which had college students in the audience. The athlete opened up about the importance of resilience, his own coming out process and the adversity he faced on the football field as an openly gay man.
Sam mentioned two instances of being called derogatory names on the field, one while with the Rams and one while at the University of Missouri. His Missouri teammates knew he was gay his last year of school and protected and supported him, minus this one incident. When the Rams incident took place, Michael Sam says he stood up to that teammate.
But Sam told the crowd he regrets his decision to come out before the draft, because he believes it hurt his draft status.
Michael Sam never did play in a regular-season NFL game with the Rams, because he was cut during the final preseason roster cutdowns. Later he became a practice-squad player with the Dallas Cowboys, and also played in the Canadian Football League with the Montréal Alouettes.
Though he thinks the NFL did him wrong, Michael Sam says he’s forgiven the league. He also plans to write an autobiography.
“The NFL gave me a raw deal,” he said to the crowd on Tuesday night. “It was tough to forgive them. I love football. Football gave me an education and gave me the opportunity I so desperately needed at the time. I really am grateful for the sport.”
Michael Sam also spoke to the crowd about the difficulties he faced while growing up in Texas. While he’s found love since coming out — he was at one time engaged to Vito Cammisano, with whom a kiss after being drafted sparked a ton of headlines, though they split back in 2015 — neither Michael Sam’s mother or father accept his identity as a gay man. “I was alone,” he said of his childhood.
When Nadia Mata, a lesbian University of New Mexico freshman who has been out for a few years, asked Michael Sam about the moment when he truly accepted himself, the athlete stepped offstage to give her a hug.
Sam told her that it was after a failed relationship with a woman, when he realized he was missing out on opportunities for real love with a man, that he finally accepted who he was. He also wanted to instill in her the importance of surrounding oneself with people who love them.
Asked how it felt to be hugged by Michael Sam, the student said, “It felt like acceptance. It felt reassuring that it really is OK to be who you are.”
What do you think about Michael Sam regretting his decision to come out when he did?
Featured image of Michael Sam via AP