On Thursday, September 22, the Africana, Latin, Asian and Native American (ALANA) Cultural Center welcomed Michael Sam to Colgate. Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted into the National Football League (NFL), was welcomed by the Colgate crowd upon entering Love Auditorium. In his opening remarks, Sam welcomed some of the late arrivals to the talk, encouraging them to grab a front row seat. Sam was informal throughout the night; without a planned speech, he cracked jokes while conveying his central message: increased awareness about LGBTQ issues.
By telling his life story, Sam shared his personal perspective on family, football and the struggles of coming out, while ultimately asking the audience to be more cognizant about LGBTQ issues.
During his childhood, Sam watched three of his siblings die in a neighborhood with high crime rates. Sam turned to football as an outlet, both as a way to avoid trouble while he was in high school and to obtain a scholarship so he could receive a college education. Sam struggled with his grades throughout high school, but became a much more diligent student once he realized football would allow him to attend a four-year college. He took extra classes, asked for help and raised his grades enough to receive a football scholarship from the University of Missouri.
Sam emphasized his educational efforts as an important aspect of the man he is today. He explained his motivation behind speaking at colleges and universities: he wants college students to apply what they learn at college in the real world.
Sam began dating, albeit secretly, when he arrived at the University of Missouri. He detailed what it was like to be a public figure and to hide such an important aspect of his life. Sam dated his boyfriend, Vito, throughout college. For the majority of their college careers, they had to sneak around, afraid of the consequences Sam might face if they were found out.
Sam came out as gay to his football team in August of 2013. Answering a Colgate student’s question, Sam explained that the brotherhood and friendship of the football team made the process of coming out easier. He also gave advice to students struggling to find community in college.
“Find someone [to talk to], and find some type of support group,” Sam said.
Sam’s strong community bonds allowed him to feel validated in sharing his true identity with his friends and teammates. After graduating from the University of Missouri, Sam came out to the world, right before the NFL draft, at the advice of his agents. Sam was drafted in the seventh round by the then St. Louis Rams, which many experts believe to be an unfair pick and was likely influenced by homophobic sentiments.
Sam, who is not currently playing, believes that he still might be in the NFL had he not come out before the draft. However, he has emphasized that he does not regret coming out, as it has made him the man he is today, and he can now openly date his boyfriend.
Sam concluded his discussion by talking about some of the problems facing the LGBTQ community. He talked about growing up in Texas, in a traditional neighborhood with a traditional family, and the ensuing conflict with his father after he came out. Sam explained that he was essentially disowned when he came out, and an already tense relationship with his father worsened. However, Sam recently forgave his father, and the two are working things out.
When asked about LGBTQ issues in conservative areas of the country, Sam responded by citing the importance of the upcoming election in changing LBGTQ rights nationally.
“Tradition is hard, but that’s why this election is so important,” Sam said. “Whoever is sitting at that desk in the oval office might affect LGBTQ rights”
Sam has overcome many struggles, and he is in a position few thought he ever would be. Sam brought this motivation to the Colgate audience, and Colgate returned the favor by giving him a set of his very own varsity greys, which all Colgate varsity athletes receive.