Michael Sam made history five years ago by becoming the first openly gay person drafted by the NFL, and now says he feels coming out ahead of the draft hurt his chances at a professional career.
Sam came out as gay that same year, 2014, while still at the University of Missouri, where he was SEC’s co-defensive player of the year in 2013. He told students at the University of New Mexico last week he felt the NFL had given him “a raw deal.”
He noted that he was one of just two SEC defensive players of the year to not be drafted in the first round, and the first to drop all the way to the seventh.
“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,” he said, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
After being dropped by the Rams, despite leading the team with sacks in the 2014 preseason, he was picked up by the Dallas Cowboys as a practice squad member, but never played in a regular season game.
He reported having to deal with anger and depression after getting dropped by the Cowboys, and said he has no respect for Dallas head coach Jason Garrett. Sam said Garrett only spoke with him twice: Once when he arrived, and once to let him know he’d been cut.
He said he’s had to forgive his family, as his parents still don’t accept him being gay, his brothers abused him growing up, and his father left the family during his childhood. He encouraged those in attendance at his talk to seek help if they are struggling with mental health issues, and offered a hug to a student who said she’d been struggling since coming out as a lesbian.
Sam also shared that he is working on an autobiography.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct language about Sam regretting coming out before the NFL draft after he expressed to NewNowNext that it was not an accurate assessment of his feelings. Steve Virgen, who wrote the Albuquerque Journal story, clarified his original reporting on Twitter, saying, “(Sam) said he had a moment of regret during the NFL draft when he slid to the seventh round but Vito (Cammisano, his then-partner) gave him a hug that made him feel better and he didn’t care what round he was picked in.”