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Former football player Sam shares story of personal resilience

by Jaclyn Deal, student writer

It became known as the kiss seen around the world. After being drafted in 2014, Michael Sam and his former boyfriend enjoyed a kiss on national television. Sam had just become the first openly gay NFL player.

Last week, Sam brought his personal story of resilience to Wingate University’s Batte Center to inspire the audience to overcome their own impediments to self-love and acceptance.

Beginning the lecture-based event, Sam addressed his troublesome childhood. One of nine children, he saw domestic violence, three of his siblings’ deaths and gang activity. During middle school, he began using sports as a mechanism to deal with negative emotions from his home life.

“Playing sports became my sanctuary,” Sam recalled. “It was a place that was always therapeutic for me to go and get away from everything.”

After becoming only the second person in his family to graduate from high school, Sam attended the University of Missouri, where he was a standout football player. It was there that he met Vito Cammisano, who was his first real boyfriend.

“The only problem in our relationship was that he was out of the closet and I wasn’t,” Sam said. “Behind closed doors, it was perfect. But, unlike other couples, when we went out on dates we had to keep distance between us.”

The famous draft-day kiss was with Cammisano. 

“The media made such a big deal out of it,” Sam said. “I mean, you don’t see headlines when another draft pick kisses his girlfriend, do you?”

As the season neared with the St. Louis Rams, Sam feared exclusion and rejection from his teammates. Luckily, his teammates were supportive, and Sam began the preseason with renewed confidence. Nonetheless, he was cut by the Rams before the season began.

Shortly after, Sam signed with first the Dallas Cowboys and then the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League. Ultimately, Sam decided to leave football for mental-health reasons. Today, he has found his calling as a motivational speaker. He travels the country telling his story of vulnerability, resilience and inspiration to students.

“As a gay woman from St. Louis, I relate a lot to Michael’s story,” said Wingate student Camille Perry. “Even though I was in middle school when all of it happened, I remember seeing it and being amazed at how much courage he had to come out during such a crucial time.”

Sam’s Feb. 26 talk, titled “From Friday Night Lights to the NFL,” was part of Wingate’s Lyceum program.

March 5, 2020