(NEW YORK) — Michael Sam, the college football player who made headlines when he revealed he was gay, will receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs in July.
Sam, speaking in an interview with ABC News’ Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts that aired on the show Wednesday, called the award “a great honor” and said he hoped to inspire other athletes.
“I just feel like, you know, because I came out, was the first one to do it — I think I can be a beacon for others, young athletes…who are maybe gay or maybe not,” he said. “And I think I could be a beacon for this people — a light that, like,’ hey, I could be comfortable in my own skin and be like Michael Sam.’”
The ESPYs, presented by ESPN, gathers celebrities from sports and entertainment to commemorate the past year in sports by recognizing major sports achievements, reliving unforgettable moments and saluting the leading performers and performances. The Ashe Award honors individuals whose contributions transcend sports.
Sam, 24, told Roberts that there are many closeted homosexuals in sports, many of whom he said reached out to him after he publicly revealed his sexuality in February.
“You know, on the night of my announcement — that week I had gotten so many emails, so many text messages, from college and NFL players, and other athletes in the sport industry about how courageous I was. (They) themselves are closeted homosexuals,” the former University of Missouri defensive lineman said. “So yeah, I’m not the only one. There’s a lot of us.”
Sam said his team was very accepting of him.
“I came out to my team in August and during camp. And they didn’t have a problem with it. And that helped me, just ’cause they respected me so much…and at the end we — had a 12-2 season. And that was amazing,” he said.
Sam said he was touched when, on his college’s football field after his announcement, he saw that his fellow classmates had written his last name in the snow.
“Mizzou — Mizzou will always be my family,” he said. “And I’m so happy to be a part of that athletic program and that school. And when I saw that, I had tears in my eyes, from just seeing my name written in the snow.”
The NFL Draft is Thursday and some have said Sam’s sexuality may get in the way of his being drafted by a professional team. If Sam is drafted, he would be the first openly gay player in the NFL.
“I’ve been thinking about this moment since junior year in college,” Sam said when Roberts asked how he felt ahead of the draft. “It’s a very nervous time, an exciting time. So I’m ready for it.”
Sam, the 2013 defensive player of the year in the Southern Conference, said coaches know he’s a great football player.
“Where I’ll go, it doesn’t matter, as long as I get to play and put a jersey on my back. It’s just awesome. I’m going to be proud wherever I go,” he said.
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