As a backdrop for his marriage proposal to his boyfriend, Vito Cammissano, Michael Sam chose Saint Peter’s Square in Vatican City.
Sam tweeted the proposal photo on January 16, showing him dropping to one knee before Cammissano, along with the note: “Thank you for saying yes.”
The pair visited Italy earlier this month. Friends reported the engagement at the time and Sam tweeted out a picture from atop St. Peter’s Basilica. But news that St. Peter’s Square served as the setting for the proposal only recently became public.
Sam is the first publicly gay player to have been drafted into the NFL.
Though compiling 11.5 sacks and winning co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors in his senior season at Missouri, Sam, after “coming out,” was repeatedly passed over in the 2014 draft. The St. Louis Rams finally drafted him in the seventh round, the 249th of 256 players selected in the draft.
After the Rams took Sam, President Obama congratulated him publicly for being the first openly gay football player to be drafted.
“From the playing field to the corporate boardroom, LGBT Americans prove every day that you should be judged by what you do and not who you are,” Obama said.
In reporting on Sam’s engagement, TMZ called the proposal “an act of defiance.” The Catholic Church opposes same-sex marriage, after all, and Pope Francis has repeatedly insisted that marriage is the union of one man with one woman.
Church officials, however, are used to surprises at Saint Peter’s, which throughout history has provided a stage for all sorts of “scandals.” Recently, topless FEMEN demonstrators simulated sexual acts with crucifixes in Saint Peter’s Square in protest of the Pope’s upcoming speech to the European Union. In 2013, a man poured petrol over himself and set himself on fire in the square.
With these precedents, it is no wonder that Sam’s wedding proposal passed unnoticed. Across town at the Roman coliseum Michael Sam might be a star, but at Saint Peter’s he is just another soul.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.