Michael Sam's courage to come out wins ESPY

Last updated 12:27 18/07/2014

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American football player Michael Sam's courage to announce he is gay has been recognised with a top US sports award.

Sam teared up throughout his acceptance speech and his voice faltered at times after receiving the coveted Arthur Ashe Courage ESPY award yesterday (NZT).

The former Missouri defensive end was this year drafted by NFL team the St. Louis Rams. When their training camp opened he would be pushing for a place on the playing roster, and if he succeeded, he would be the NFL's first openly gay player.

''Great things can happen when you have the courage to be yourself,'' he told the audience in his acceptance speech.

NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown hugged Sam on his way to the stage.

The Ashe award was named for the late tennis player who died in 1993 after contracting AIDS from a blood transfusion.

ESPY AWARD WINNERS

NBA forward Kevin Durant won two ESPYs, including male athlete of the year, and mixed martial arts star Ronda Rousey earned female athlete honours, becoming the first UFC fighter to claim a trophy in the biggest category at the show.

Durant also won best NBA player, ending LeBron James' two-year reign in both categories.

''Everybody helped me out along the way,'' Durant said.

''My beautiful mum watching at home who couldn't be here. My favorite teammate, Russell Westbrook.''

Durant beat out fellow male athlete nominees Miguel Cabrera of baseball team the Detroit Tigers, Peyton Manning of the NFL's Denver Broncos and boxer Floyd Mayweather during the show hosted by rapper Drake.

Rousey, the first female UFC champion, won over WNBA star Maya Moore, Olympic champion skier Mikaela Shiffrin and college basketball player Brenna Stewart.

The winners in most categories were determined by fan voting.

Rousey didn't attend, with presenter Chrissy Teigen saying the fighter had surgery a day earlier.

Manning didn't go home empty-handed. He collected two trophies: best NFL player and record-breaking performance.

Manning won his fifth Most Valuable Player award last season, when he set single-season records by passing for 55 touchdowns and more than 5500 yards.

The Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks won best team. Their All-Pro cornerback, Richard Sherman, won breakthrough athlete.

The best game was American football's Iron Bowl college matchup between No 1 Alabama and No 4 Auburn, with the Tigers winning 34-28 on the final play to spoil the Tide's BCS hopes.

Led by keeper Tim Howard, the US men's soccer team won best moment for its run to the round of 16 in the World Cup.

Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal won best international athlete.

Gregg Popovich won best coach-manager for guiding the San Antonio Spurs to the NBA championship. Spurs player Kawhi Leonard earned the championship performance award to go with his MVP award from the NBA Finals.

Westbrook won best comeback athlete, having overcome his latest knee surgery to help the Thunder reach the Western Conference finals.

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Stewart won best female college athlete, while Creighton basketball star Doug McDermott won male college athlete.

Olympic snowboarders Jamie Anderson and Sage Kotsenburg won best female and male Olympian. Kotsenburg won the first gold medal of the Sochi Games in men's snowboard slopestyle.

The Jimmy V Award for Perseverance was given to ESPN ''SportsCenter'' anchor Stuart Scott, who is fighting a recurrence of cancer first diagnosed seven years ago.

The Pat Tillman Award for Service was given for the first time to Josh Sweeney, a retired Marine who lost both his legs after an explosion in Afghanistan. He scored the lone goal for the US sled hockey team that beat the Russians for gold earlier this year at the Paralympics in Sochi.

- AP

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