Michael Sam, the first openly gay NFL draft pick, was awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the annual ESPY Awards on Tuesday.
Sam, who announced earlier this year that he is gay, teared up throughout his speech and his voice faltered at times as he accepted the award, named for the late tennis player who died in 1993 after contracting HIV from a blood transfusion.
“Great things can happen when you have the courage to be yourself,” he told the audience.
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“The way I see it, my responsibility at this moment in history is to stand up for everybody out there who wants nothing more than to be themselves openly.
“Recently, a friend asked me to talk to his sister, a young woman who was considering killing herself rather than accepting and sharing with her loved ones the fact that she’s gay. When we spoke, she told me she would never consider hurting herself again and that somehow my example helped her.
It’s amazing to think that, by just doing what we can, we can all touch, change and even save lives.”
Hall of Famer Jim Brown hugged Sam on his way to the stage.
The ESPY Awards (short for Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award) is an accolade presented by cable television network ESPN to recognize individual and team athletic achievement and other sports-related performances.
Sam attended the awards ceremony with his partner Vito Cammisano.