16 July, 2014, Nokia Center, Los Angeles, USA
Thank you so much, Dwayne, thank you, ESPN, and thank you, everyone. The Arthur Ashe Courage Award is a big honor, but much bigger than just me. This year I had a lot of experience being a part of something bigger than myself. At times, I felt like I'd been living in a massive storm, and I know this storm will end. But I'm here tonight to tell you the lessons I learned about love, respect, and being yourself will never leave me.
The late, great, Arthur Ashe wasn't just courageous, he was brilliant, too. In fact, he once put all the wisdom in the world in three short sentences: Stay where you are,- sorry, Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can. Those are the words to live by, whether you're black or white, young or old, straight or gay. So let me tell you why those words mean so much to me, like this award does.
First, start where you are. Like a lot of us, I didn't start on top. But it only drove me to get somewhere better. I was so lucky to have great father figures like Ronnie Pearl, my mentor and best friend. And great coaches like Gary Pinkel and Craig Smith, who knew my story, and did everything humanly possible to give it a better ending.
Next, use what you have. What I have is a privilege to play a game I love with all my heart. Football raised me. Football taught me about hard work, about discipline, and about teamwork. But whatever passion or talent you have, follow it. I followed mine, and it got me to this stage tonight, where I get to see a lot of my heroes looking back at me.
Finally, Arthur Ashe said do what you can. Those have been very meaningful words to me, and the way I see it, my responsibility in this moment in history is to stand up for everybody out there who wants nothing more than to be themselves openly. Recently, a friend asked me to talk to his sister, a young woman who was considering killing herself, rather than accepting and sharing with her loved ones the fact that she was gay. When we spoke, she told me that she would never consider hurting herself again, and that somehow my example, example would help her. [Applause.] It's, it's amazing to think, by what doing what we can we can all touch, change, and even save lives.
But I want to take a moment to thank some of my friends who've helped me. My team, Kerran Wise and Joe Barkett, young guys who took a chance on me, just like I took a chance on them. And Ken Sunshine. Ronnie and Candy Pearl, who've done so much to help me get here. My entire Mizzou family, for all the support they've given me, you will always be home. And to the Rams organization, Mr. Stan Cronkie, Les Snead, Coach Fisher, and my teammates. To my mother, a single mother who, somehow, raised eight kids, I love you dearly. Last but not least, Vito, people tell me that I'm their inspiration, but you are my inspiration.
Standing here tonight, looking out at all these legends who have already achieved so much is one of the thrills of my life. I promise to spend the rest of my life trying to, my best to live up to this honor and become the best football player I can. And finally, to anyone out there, especially young people, feeling like they don't fit in and would never be accepted, know this: great things can happen when you have the courage to be yourself.
Thank you, and God bless.