The NFL’s first openly-gay player, Michael Sam, was met with two standing ovations as he accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award on Wednesday night.
Sam received the award from Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson at the Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly (ESPY) Awards, hosted by TV network ESPN. His speech starts roughly 44 minutes into the video.
Accepting the award, he said: “This year I had a lot of experience being part of something bigger than myself. At times, I felt like I’d 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 and being true to yourself will never leave me.”
He quoted Arthur Ashe, after whom the award is named: an African American tennis player and health campaigner who died due to AIDS-related complications in 1993. He said: “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.”
He added: “Those were the words to live by, whether you’re black or white, young or old, straight or gay.”
“The way I see it, my responsibility at this moment in history is to stand up for everyone out there who wants nothing to be themselves openly,” he said.
He called the award “one of the thrills of my life” and said: “I promise to spend the rest of my life trying to live up to this honor and trying to become the best football player I can.”
He concluded by addressing people “who are feeling like they don’t fit in and will never be accepted”, telling them: “Great things can happen when you have the courage to be yourself.”