MESA, Ariz. -- Michael Sam is preparing to become the first openly gay athlete in the NFL and Jason Collins became the first openly gay active NBA player Sunday by taking the floor for the Brooklyn Nets, but Major League Baseball has yet to employ an openly gay player. Most think that’s probably going to change soon.
“The bottom line is if the person can play,” Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija said. “It doesn’t matter your background or anything like that. We’re accepting of anyone that can help us win.”
That was the sentiment echoed throughout the locker room during spring training as the topic has become part of the narrative in sports. Samardzija played football at Notre Dame, so he knows the dynamic of both kinds of locker rooms.
“I think it’s all macho,” he said. “Every locker room has that sense. You have to carry yourself in the way that you’re not intimidated, but it comes down to personalities. If you’re a good dude, you’re a good dude.”
Others believe the issue won’t be newsworthy as more openly gay players step forward.
“It’s becoming the norm nowadays,” reliever James Russell said. “Whether you agree with the lifestyle or not, he’s in the locker room trying to help the team win. You can do nothing but support him if that’s the case.
“Football is looked at as gladiators. Maybe that’s why they don’t expect something like that. Baseball is a little more old-school, but I don’t see it being a big problem.”
Many players assume they’ve played with gay players, but none has come out in public or private. That’s going to change.
“The attention would get blown out of proportion,” Russell said. “There would be guys that object and not like it, but the bottom line is it’s a free country. As long as it’s not hurting the team, then by all means it's fine.”
Second baseman Darwin Barney added: “This day and age, you can’t be so arrogant that you’re not accepting of anybody. No matter what they do or like. Those days should be behind us.”
The only difference between football and baseball in Samardzija’s estimation is the bond between position players in football.
“In a football locker room, usually your position teammates have your back, so I would imagine that would be the case there,” he said. “Here, we’d all have his back.”