Today, HRC announced that Michael Sam, who made history as America’s first openly gay professional football player, will be honored at HRC’s national Time to THRIVEconference in February.
“We are excited and privileged to recognize Michael Sam, and his brave commitment to leading an authentic life in a profession that has been historically unwelcoming to LGBT people,” said Vincent Pompei, chair of Time to THRIVE and director of the HRC Foundation’s Youth Well-Being Project. “By coming out, Michael sent an invaluable message to young LGBT Americans that anything is possible for them - even playing in the NFL.”
Sam, a Texas native, was chosen as an All-American, and shared the title of Southeastern Conference (SEC) Defensive Player of the Year during the final year of his college football career at the University of Missouri. A defensive end, he then became the first openly gay football player picked by an NFL team when the St. Louis Rams chose him during the league’s 2014 draft.
“I know first-hand what it’s like to live and come out in spaces where being LGBTQ isn’t accepted, much less celebrated,” Sam said. “So I understand the challenges that many of today’s LGBTQ youth are facing - from bullying to family rejection, even homelessness. These are heartbreaking problems that no child, no young person should have to face alone, and that people like teachers, counselors and social workers are uniquely positioned to help overcome.”
“I’m honored to be part of such an important conference, where the concerns of LGBTQ youth - particularly youth of color - are being elevated, and where the educators and professionals who serve them have a unique opportunity to learn how to better meet those needs,” he said. “I truly believe that events like Time to THRIVE can help create a better, more hopeful future for LGBTQ youth.”
The acclaimed Time to THRIVEconference, which last year featured actress Ellen Page’s profoundly inspirational coming out speech as well as an appearance by Chelsea Clinton, attracts hundreds of people who play crucial roles in the everyday lives of LGBTQ youth - from teachers, counselors, clergy, and coaches, to staff from youth development organizations including scouting and Boys and Girls Clubs. More than 60 workshops on topics such as creating safe and inclusive schools, and supporting transgender and gender-expansive youth, are available to attendees.
After publicly coming out, Sam, who made his NFL debut in a preseason game last August and is now a free agent, was chosen to receive the prestigious Arthur Ashe Courage Award, given annually at ESPN’s ESPY awards to a person who shows the fearlessness to stand up for their beliefs no matter the cost. In accepting the Ashe award, Sam said this: "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 was also named one of GQ magazine’s 2014 “Men of the Year,” and was a finalist for Sports Illustrated’s 2014 “Sportsman of the Year” award.