michael samPost submitted by Bo Suh, HRC Digital Media Intern

Earlier this week, Michael Sam received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2014 Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly (ESPYs) in Los Angeles. He delivered an emotional, powerful speech on his experiences as an openly gay athlete and role model after accepting the award.

“Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can,” Sam said, quoting Ashe. “Those were the words to live by, whether you’re black or white, young or old, straight or gay.”

In February, Michael Sam became the first Division I college football player in history to come out as gay. In June, the St. Louis Rams signed Michael Sam and made him the first openly gay athlete to play on an NFL team. Since then, Sam has been an outspoken advocate for LGBT visibility in sports and a role model for young LGBT athletes and fans.

Sam also shared the moving story of a woman considered committing suicide because of her sexual orientation but decided not to because of Sam’s influence.

"When we spoke, she told me she would never consider hurting herself again, and that somehow my example helped her," Sam said. "It's amazing to think that, by just doing what we can, we can all touch, change and even save lives."

The Arthur Ashe Courage Award is named in honor of the first black player on the U.S. Davis Cup team. Ashe was also a champion for civil rights and an outspoken AIDS activist.  

Sam concluded his speech by thanking his friends, family, team members, and mentors. He then gave a final word of advice for people in the audience.

"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," Sam said.

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