Football player Michael Sam said he did not feel supported by the NFL after he made history as the first openly gay athlete to be drafted by a team in 2014.
Sam reflected on his brief career as a professional NFL player—which came to a premature end in 2015 after he quit the sport citing mental health issues—while speaking at the University of New Mexico on Tuesday (February 12).
The 29-year-old said that to overcome those mental health issues, he had to do a lot of forgiveness—himself, family members who hurt him and who still do not accept who he is, and also the NFL, reported the Albuquerque Journal.
“The NFL gave me a raw deal. It was tough to forgive them.”
— Michael Sam
“The NFL gave me a raw deal,” Sam was quoted as saying. “It was tough to forgive them. I love football. Football gave me an education and gave me the opportunity I so desperately needed at the time. I really am grateful for the sport.”
Sam, who came out to his college teammates before his senior year at the University of Missouri and then won the title of SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, said he had expected to be drafted in the late second round—but he wasn’t drafted in the St. Louis Rams until the seventh round, one of the last pics that year.
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According to the Albuquerque Journal, Sam told the students he regretted coming out before the draft, believing it had hurt his career chances. It is a feeling the former NFL player has expressed before.
“I think if I never would have came out, never would have said those words out to the public, I would still be currently in the NFL,” he said in a 2016 interview with Edge of Sports.
At the time, he celebrated the news of the draft kissing his then boyfriend Vito Cammisano, a story that made headlines.
“Who the hell was I supposed to kiss?” Sam said, reflecting on that moment at the February 12 event, quoted in the student publication Daily Lobo.
Michael Sam discusses two negative experiences with teammates
Sam, who had brief stints in the NFL’s St Louis Rams and the Dallas Cowboys and Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes, recalled two instances in which he had negative experiences with his teammates.
According to the Albuquerque Journal, Sam described feeling betrayed by a teammate at the University of Missouri as one of the instances—the other was being called a “negative name” by a fellow Rams player.
Answering questions from students, Sam also revealed that Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett only spoke to him twice, when he first joined the team and to let him know he was cut. Sam said he preferred his Rams coach, Jeff Fisher, because he had made an effort to get to know him.
When student Nadia Mata, who identified as a lesbian, asked Sam about the moment he truly accepted himself, the former NFL player said he accepted himself after a relationship ended because he felt ashamed of being gay, and told himself he was not going to miss out on love again.
He then hugged the student as the audience applauded the touching moment. “It almost felt like acceptance,” Mata said, quoted in the Daily Lobo, adding: “It’s something a lot of LGBT kids don’t get a lot of.”