Michael Sam was in a dark place. With his NFL dreams dashed, the former college football standout was drinking and partying to excess. This pattern of self-destruction continued for months, with the low point arriving when his fiancée called off their engagement.
Now Sam is playing football again, and his life is back on track.
Sam, who became the first out gay player ever selected in the NFL Draft, is the subject of a new ESPN feature, “The Unfinished Story.” In it, reporter Chris Connelly catches up with Sam in Spain, where he’s playing for the Barcelona Dragons in the European Football League.
Originally signed as a defensive line coach, Sam became an active player in June. That means he’s playing football for the first time in seven years.
He feels reinvigorated.
“Football is a privilege, not a right. I don’t take it for granted anymore,” said Sam. “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.”
Sam has learned that the journey to finding mental peace isn’t always linear. He publicly came out in February 2014 with an historic declaration: “I’m Michael Sam. I’m a college graduate. I’m African-American, and I’m gay.”
The Rams selected Sam in the seventh round of the draft, but he was released during training camp, and failed to catch on with the Dallas Cowboys after signing onto their practice squad.
Prior to this year, Sam last played professional football in 2015, when he suited up for the Montreal Allouettes of the Canadian Football League.
He lasted just one game.
At the time, Sam said he regretted coming out before the draft. Looking back, he says he was uncomfortable being thrust into such a high-profile position.
“It was just me owning my own truth,” he said in the “SportsCenter” special. “I think of it as a burden, because I honestly didn’t think that I had done anything special.”
Last summer, Carl Nassib became the first active NFL to publicly come out as gay. He’s also spoken about the stresses that come along with being “the first.”
“What other fucking gay dude has to come out to his entire fucking business?,” he said on his former teammate, Darren Waller’s, podcast.
Now 32 years old, Sam has taken a lot of time to reflect. He’s experienced ups and downs, but his passion for football hasn’t dimmed.
Right now, he’s at the best spot in his life, both personally and professionally. The final stop of his football career will be in Barcelona.
It may not be what Sam imagined eight years ago, but he’s in the perfect place now.
“This is it, whether it’s this season or the next two seasons,” he said. “This is my high rise of playing professional football.”