In the year since he came out as gay, Missouri’s All-American defensive lineman Michael Sam has endured a “roller coaster” of emotions, as he was cut by two NFL teams and endured constant hateful messages.
But he has also heard from many people who were inspired by his example, and he has been able to live openly with the man he loves.
“It was because of love, the reason why I came out,” Sam told about 220 people Sunday at the Human Rights Campaign’s second annual Kansas City Equality Brunch, held at the Roasterie.
Sam was joined at the brunch by his partner, Vito Cammisano, to whom he is engaged. The two met when both were students at the University of Missouri, and Sam admitted that he initially struggled with the idea of them being seen together in public. Eventually, he had to ask himself, “Is this the man I want to be?”
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He told the gathering that he concluded a true man would summon the courage to be comfortable in his own skin. He came out as gay, first to his University of Missouri football team and then publicly on Feb. 9, 2014.
Sam said the MU team was totally accepting and he had a fantastic senior year, as he was chosen an All-American and shared the title of Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year. He then became the first openly gay professional football player when the St. Louis Rams picked him during the 2014 draft. But he was cut from that team and then from Dallas and is a free agent, now living in Dallas.
In introducing Sam as speaker, Kansas City Mayor Sly James especially praised the timing of Sam’s announcement. He said it took “exceptional courage” for him to come out before the NFL draft.
Sam said he doesn’t know how much his announcement has affected his prospects, or what is in the minds of owners and general managers. But he said he is determined to keep pursuing his dream of a professional football career.
“I am not giving up,” he told the audience.
Although Sam said he gets hateful emails on a daily basis, he has also been stunned by the positive impact his announcement had on young people. He even heard from one young woman who had attempted suicide twice.
“After I came out, she finally decided her life was more important than the blade,” Sam said, adding that saving a life means more to him than any amount of time he might play in the NFL.
The Human Rights Campaign provides legal and educational services and ongoing advocacy for the LGBT community, both in Kansas City and nationally. This year’s brunch doubled last year’s attendance, and the campaign was lucky to get Sam as its keynote speaker, since he has inspired the LGBT community across the country, said Angela Cottrell, a Kansas City member of the campaign’s Board of Governors.