clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Michael Sam receives Arthur Ashe Courage Award

Michael Sam uses his speech to explain how examples like his can touch, and even save, lives.

Michael Sam wins Arthur Ashe Courage Award
Michael Sam wins Arthur Ashe Courage Award

In the early 1980s, Ashe is believed to have contracted HIV from a blood transfusion he received during heart bypass surgery. Ashe publicly announced his illness in April 1992 and began working to educate others about HIV and AIDS. He founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS and the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health before his death from AIDS-related pneumonia on February 6, 1993.

Previous recipients

  • 1993 Jim Valvano
  • 1994 Steve Palermo
  • 1995 Howard Cosell
  • 1996 Loretta Claiborne
  • 1997 Muhammad Ali
  • 1998 Dean Smith
  • 1999 Billie Jean King
  • 2000 Dave Sanders (posthumously)
  • 2001 Cathy Freeman
  • 2002 Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett, and Jeremy Glick
  • 2003 Pat Tillman and Kevin Tillman
  • 2004 George Weah
  • 2005 Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah and Jim MacLaren
  • 2006 Roia Ahmad and Shamila Kohestani
  • 2007 Trevor Ringland and David Cullen from Peace Players International
  • 2008 Tommie Smith and John Carlos
  • 2009 Nelson Mandela
  • 2010 Family of Ed Thomas
  • 2011 Dewey Bozella
  • 2012 Pat Summitt
  • 2013 Robin Roberts
  • 2014 Michael Sam

Full transcript thanks to Sam wins Arthur Ashe Courage Award at ESPYs - Columbia Daily Tribune | Columbia Missouri: Behind The Stripes

"The Arthur Ashe Courage Award is a big honor. Much bigger than just me. This year I've had a lot of experience being part of something bigger than myself. At times, I've felt like I've been living in a massive storm, without knowing when the storm will end. I'm here tonight to tell you the lessons I learned about love, respect, being true to yourself will never leave me.

"The late, great Artuhur Ashe wasn't just courageous. He was brilliant, too. In fact, he once put all the wisdom in the world in three short sentences: 'Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.' Those are words to live by, whether you're black or white, young or old, straight or gay. So let me tell you why these words mean so much to me, like this award does.

"First, start where you are. Like a lot of us, I didn't start on top. That only drove me to get somewhere better. I was lucky to have great father figures like Ronnie Purl, my mentor and best friend. And great coaches like Gary Pinkel and (Hitchcock's) Craig Smith, who knew my story and did everything possible to give it a better ending.

"Next, use what you have. What I have is the privilege to play a game that I love with all my heart. Football raised me. Football taught me about hard work, about discipline and about teamwork. But whatever passion or talent you have, follow it. I followed mine, and it got me all the way to this stage tonight, so I can look out and see so many of my heroes looking back at me.

"Finally, Arthur Ashe said, 'Do what you can.' Those have been very meaningful words to me. The way I see it, my responsibility at this moment in history is to stand up for everybody out there who wants nothing more than to be themselves openly. Recently, a friend asked me to talk to his sister, a young woman who was considering killing herself rather than accepting and sharing with her loved ones the fact that she's gay. When we spoke, she told me she would never consider hurting herself and that somehow my example helped her. It's amazing to think that, by just doing what we can, we can all touch, change and even save lives.

"I want to take a moment to just thank some of my friends who have helped me. (Agents) Cameron Weiss and Joe Barkett, young guys who took a chance on me, just like I took a chance on them. And (public relations consultant) Ken Sunshine. Ronnie and Candy Purl, who have done so much to help me get here. My entire Mizzou family for all the support you've given me. You will always be home. And to the Rams organiztion -- (owner) Stan Kroenke, (general manager) Les Snead, (head coach JeffFisher and my teammates. To my mother (JoAnn Sam), a single mother who somehow raised eight kids, I love you dearly.

"Last but not least, (boyfriend and former Missouri swimmer) Vito (Cammisano). People tell me that I'm their inspiration. You are my inspiration.

"Standing here tonight looking out at all these legends who have already achieved so much is one of the thrills of my life. I promise to spend the rest of my life trying my best to live up to this honor and become the best football player I can.

"And finally, 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.

"Thank you and God bless."

Via the CDC

LGBT youth are also at increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors, suicide attempts, and suicide. A nationally representative study of adolescents in grades 7–12 found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers

LGBT hotlines and services are available and ItGetsBetter

If you are in crisis or in need of immediate support please call:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

1-800-273-TALK (8255)

The Trevor Project

The nation’s only 24/7 crisis intervention and suicide prevention lifeline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning young people ages 13 to 24.

1-866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386)

The GLBT National Help Center


1-888-THE-GLNH (888-843-4564)

Youth Talkline:

1-800-246-PRIDE (800-246-7743)

If you think you need help, there are always people here to support you.

In Canada?

For anonymous and free support and counseling services, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, please call KIDS HELP PHONE at 1-800-668-6868. To ask a question online, visitKIDSHELPPHONE.CA.

These organizations provide services including crisis intervention, suicide prevention and mental health support, as well as community outreach, but are not affiliated in any way with the It Gets Better Project.  They are listed here for informational purposes only.