Oprah Winfrey, Michael Sam


Michael Sam hasn't yet found a professional NFL team to call home—but here's hoping that his decision to enter the draft as an openly gay athlete makes the road easier for those hoping to follow in his footsteps.

The former University of Missouri football star tells Oprah Winfrey, in a sit-down airing Saturday on OWN's Oprah Prime, that "a very few" gay NFL players have reached out to him in solidarity.

Pressed by Winfrey as to what he meant by a few—"One? Two? Three? Five?" she asked—Sam only reiterated, "Very few reached out to me."

"Gay men in the NFL," he affirmed when Winfrey again asked to make sure that she was understanding him correctly. "Reached out to you and called you?" she asked.

"Reached out to me, yes, and just showed their respect and showed...admired my courage," he said. "It was very—it was very good."

Sam, the SEC's 2013 Defensive Player of the Year, was drafted this year in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams with the 249th pick. He was added to the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad after being cut by the Rams, but Dallas let him go in October.

Oprah pointed out that he was using the word "men," not man, when he referred to fellow gay players and he reiterated, "Men. There's a lot of us out there...I'm not the only one. I'm just the only one who's open."

As one of GQ's Men of the Year, Sam opened up to the men's mag about the hard time he had growing up with brothers whom he said were both physically and emotionally abusive, and Winfrey asked about one particularly upsetting experience involving his siblings.

"They called me a lot of things. They called me f-g. They called me gay. They called me anything you can think of just to hurt me," Sam recalled. "And I remember, seventh grade we had a lot of —I got some honors in football and basketball and track and I got trophies for the first time in my life.  I got a trophy... And my mom was so proud of me because it was the first time any of her kids had an achievement that high.

"And, you know, it was most valuable player," he continued. "And I was so proud. I was so proud of those trophies. And my older [brother]—he was so jealous and he just broke them in front of me. Like it was just the saddest thing. I couldn't have anything without them destroying it or taking it from me."

No wonder sports became Sam's life.

"And as I was becoming a teenager, I needed sports," he said. "This is the thing my mom never got. I needed sports, too, because I knew I wanted to make something of myself. I knew sports taught me, and my coaches taught me, the discipline that I have today. I needed it.  And she never got that."

Winfrey and OWN had been planning to make a docu-series with Sam when he was first drafted until it was ultimately mutually decided that it would be too much of a distraction as he embarked on a pro career. Instead, a documentary feature about Sam premieres Saturday on OWN at 9 p.m. Oprah Prime: Michael Sam follows at 10:30 p.m.

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