Photo Courtesy Shutterstock/Getty Images
Photo Courtesy Shutterstock/Getty Images

Michael Sam is at the podium. There’s no commissioner’s hand to shake, no NFL team hat to put on. He faces out at a room that’s less than half full.

He starts his speech simply: “I’ve learned a lot about myself.”

It’s a brash understatement. It’s been five years since he publicly came out and then became the first openly gay football player drafted into the NFL. Five years since he burst into prime time with a one-on-one with Oprah, was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, won an Arthur Ashe award for courage at the ESPYs and was one of GQ’s Men of the Year.

In early spring, 2014, he was an icon and all trajectories pointed upward.

But then he never played an official NFL game. Instead, he fizzled out of the public’s consciousness — pulled apart by pressure, bigotry and his own shortcomings. He fell into a cycle of drugs and alcohol until he nearly self-destructed.

So, did he learn a lot about himself? Sure, but it almost killed him.

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