02/17/2015 01:53 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Michael Sam Recalls The Moment He Knew He Was Gay While Accepting HRC's Upstander Award

Michael Sam recalled his history-making year as the first openly gay player drafted by the NFL in an poignant speech at the Human Rights Campaign's (HRC) Time To Thrive Conference.

Crediting football as "his sanctuary," Sam discussed coming to terms with his sexuality despite having grown up "poor, afraid and alone" while accepting the HRC's Upstander Award at the conference, which took place over the weekend in Portland, Oregon.

"The people who were supposed to be there for me weren’t. I looked to football and sports to be my sanctuary,” he said. "When I got to college [I thought] 'Maybe I will experiment — I will see if maybe I’m not gay. Maybe it’s a phase.'"

He then quipped, "But you know, after that first time I knew pretty damn sure I didn’t like girls."

Sam also took time to thank his fiancé, Vito Cammisano, for being the first person "who made me comfortable to be who I am, to be comfortable in my own skin.”

The couple got engaged earlier this year atop St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.

Although he is currently without a team, Sam vowed to remain a role model to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth regardless of his NFL prospects, telling the crowd, "If we can save one life, we're all winners."



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