Michael Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL, gave a powerful speech at the ESPYs on Wednesday after winning the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
Sam announced that he was gay in February, three months before the St. Louis Rams selected him in the seventh round.
On Wednesday, the former first-team All-American defensive lineman from the University of Missouri kissed his boyfriend before walking onto the stage.
"This year I had a lot of experience being part of something bigger than myself," Sam said. "At times, I've felt like I've been living in a massive storm, without knowing when the storm will end. But I'm here tonight to tell you that the lessons I learned about love, respect, being true to yourself will never leave me."
Sam went on to talk about how his openness and acceptance of himself helped turn around a young woman who had contemplated suicide because she was gay.
"When we spoke, she told me she would never consider hurting herself again, and that somehow my example helped her," Sam said tearfully. "It's amazing to think that, by just doing what we can, we can all touch, change and even save lives."
The 24-year-old closed his speech with advice for anyone struggling with their identity.
"To anyone out there — especially young people — feeling like they don't fit in and will never be accepted, please know this: Great things can happen when you have the courage to be yourself," Sam said.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times