The Missouri defensive end, who likely will be drafted by an NFL team this weekend, will receive the award given to individuals who transcend sports at The 2014 ESPYs on July 16.
Sam, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, has announced that he is gay, making him set to become the first openly gay player in the NFL. ESPN is honoring Sam for "his courage and honesty that resonates beyond sports."
"I'm very honored to be presented with the Arthur Ashe award," he said. "It is about courage.
"You know I don't think there is anything courageous I did. I look forward to when we can live life in a world when gays don't have to come out in public."
Sam said he has received support from athletes in all sports, "from football to basketball to softball to soccer, everyone."
"I am thrilled to be living in a time when you can be accepted for how you live."
Sam joins a prestigious list of winners ranging from Jim Valvano, the first recipient in 1995, to Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King, Cathy Freeman, Nelson Mandela and Pat Summitt.
The award, of course, is named for Ashe, the inspirational tennis star who died in 1993 after contracting AIDS from a blood transfusion. After learning he had the disease, Ashe campaigned to raise awareness about AIDS.
"Arthur always believed in and practiced leading by example," said Ashe's widow, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe. "When Michael Sam announced that he is gay, he courageously stepped forward to engage an issue that still remains a pervasive problem in many professional sports. Michael has displayed true leadership both on and off the field."
Sam is one of eight children from Hitchcock, Texas. Two of his siblings have died and one disappeared and has not been found.
Maura Mandt, executive producer of the ESPYs, calls Sam a "humble guy who isn't looking for any accolades."
"In deciding to give Michael this honor, while his courageous act of coming out is a part of it, the story is about the life he led growing up," Mandt added. "A man who has consistently lived his life with integrity, is never afraid of living this truth."