What Happened To The NFL's First Active Gay Player, Michael Sam?

There's a large and well-celebrated history of LGBTQ+ people in sports. According to Sport and Dev, members of the LGBTQ+ community have been pushing the boundaries in many sports for decades. One such example includes David Kopay, who was a former NFL athlete back in the 1970s who came out as gay. His story was incredibly inspiring to future generations of gay football players who may have faced similar challenges on their way to stardom. Though the challenges may prove difficult, many LGBTQ+ athletes are working towards a more inclusive sports industry.

One such athlete is Michael Sam, the NFL's first active gay football player. Sam has played for a few professional football teams, such as the St. Louis Rams, the Dallas Cowboys, and the Montreal Alouettes (via The Washington Post). As reported by the Columbia Missourian, Sam overcame many struggles during his career to become an inspirational role model for the LGBTQ+ community. Given the lack of gay representation in the NFL overall and the still present stigma surrounding diverse sexuality, this was huge for football. But where is Michael Sam today? 

Who is Michael Sam?

Michael Sam started playing football at a very early age. According to Sports Illustrated, Sam grew up playing football at Hitchcock High School in Hitchcock, Texas. There he had a reputation for being a dominating player on the field and was described as incredibly mature for his age. Sam faced challenges in being accepted during his time in school. He once confronted and punched a person who called him a racially derogatory name at a party. 

Despite the challenges he faced, there were also positive moments for Sam. As stated by The Huffington Post, in 2013, Sam came out as gay to his coaches and teammates, becoming the NFL's first active gay football player. Reportedly some of his friends weren't even surprised by the announcement. "We all had the idea he was going to come out eventually," said Jordan Turner, one of Sam's childhood friends. 

Despite the support he received, Sam also faced additional challenges. As reported by the Columbia Missourian, he faced backlash from Westboro Baptist Church after coming out. The church protested Sam at University of Missouri, though many of his classmates lined up across the block in counter-protest to block church members. "You don't understand how much hate I was getting from that, and to see that [the counter-protest] was just truly amazing. It was very powerful," Sam told the Columbia Missourian.

Michael Sam has struggled with discrimination

According to the Advocate, the American Psychiatric Association used to list homosexuality as a mental illness. It took a lot of LGBTQ+ activism to finally get the organization to remove this wrongful categorization. Despite this, many LGBTQ+ members still suffer from increased depression and anxiety from discrimination (per U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). 

Michael Sam is one such athlete who also suffered from challenges with his mental health. After kissing his boyfriend in public, the media and critics picked apart everything that Sam did, like how he played football to even his shower habits. An unknown Rams player even called Sam a homophobic slur. He was also called slurs by a teammate during his time at the University of Missouri as well, though he was apologized to after being angry and taking a stand against the homophobic language. 

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Michael Sam was engaged to his then boyfriend

In 2015, it was revealed that Michael Sam was dating Vito Cammisano. According to Bustle, Cammisano and Sam met while attending the University of Missouri and eventually started dating. Unlike Sam, Cammisano doesn't have any connection to football. Sam and Cammisano had a slow-burn relationship at first, with neither of the two speaking to each other for two years after meeting at a party. Once they started talking more, they eventually started dating. Sam and Cammisano went public with their relationship in 2014 and got engaged in 2015 (per Oprah). 

Unfortunately, this engagement did not last very long. As stated by Us Weekly, the two were only engaged for six months total before calling it off. According to a close source, their relationship saw a fair amount of turbulence through the months leading up to the dissolution of their engagement. Sam also deleted every photo of Cammisano on social media platforms like Instagram.

Michael Sam continues his football career

During his NFL career, Sam struggled with depression that kept building up until he was cut from the NFL in 2015. According to ESPN Front Row, mental health was a huge reason Sam decided to leave football. He had a rough time after leaving the NFL, falling into cycles of drug abuse and other addictions. He also got involved in heated public exchanges, which were publicized by news media. With therapy, Sam was able to overcome these challenges. He also decided to take up public speaking to help LGBTQ+ youth going through similar experiences.

As stated by The University of New Mexico Newsroom, Sam gave a talk at the university in 2019, speaking about LGBTQ+ inclusion, his struggles, and more. It wasn't the first time Sam put his public speaking chops to the test. He gave an acceptance speech in 2014 when he received the prestigious Arthur Ashe Courage Award (per Ebony). Public speaking seems to be part of Sam's healing process, a way for him to come to terms with his past and help out others in similar positions. 

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Michael Sam takes his passion for football overseas

Public speaking isn't the only thing Sam has been up to. According to Outsports, Sam landed a coaching job on the team the Barcelona Dragons earlier in the year. He's been the assistant coach for the team since April and also works with the defensive line. For those who aren't quite familiar, the Barcelona Dragons are a European football team that is part of the European League of Football (which plays American football). Reportedly, Sam is also pro football's first openly gay coach, marking another tremendous first for the athlete in his career. 

In June 2022, it was announced that Sam returned to the field, playing for the Barcelona Dragons. Sam said (via Outsports), "Going out there, hanging out with the guys, being able to hit again. The energy, everything is therapy for me. This team has helped me so much mentally and emotionally. They've probably even saved my life."

Being a participant in the European League of Football, Sam is part of the attempt to bridge the gap between American football and Europe. As stated by the CFL News Hub, the league was first established back in 2020 and boasts 12 teams as of this publication. The league hopes to make Europe excited about American football; a feat that might be difficult. Sam's passion for the game continues to be evident. He said (via Outsports), "Football is a privilege, not a right. I don't take it for granted anymore."