NFL Nation Says: Michael Sam

February, 13, 2014
Feb 13
9:00
AM ET
Michael SamMatthew Visinsky/Icon SMICurrent players weigh in on how Michael Sam will affect the league.
Four days have passed since Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam's historic announcement, one that puts him in position to be the first openly gay man to play in the NFL. As the dust settled on the news, ESPN.com's NFL Nation reached out to a cross-section of players to help address two important questions:

What is the greatest challenge facing Sam as he moves into the professional ranks? How will his announcement change the league?

Answers ranged the spectrum of opinion. Many suggested Sam would be challenged more by increased public attention than by anything he encountered inside the NFL culture. Some, most notably New York Giants defensive back Terrell Thomas, think the league isn't ready for an openly gay player.

In the end, St. Louis Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis said, Sam's announcement provides players "an opportunity to show kind of their class" by demonstrating how the team concept can supersede the natural differences of opinions in a group setting. Read on for additional comments:


Indianapolis Colts tight end Dwayne Allen


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What are the greatest challenges facing Michael Sam in the NFL? "The greatest challenges that he'll face surprisingly enough will be on the field, not off. Though everyone will be accepting of his sexual orientation off the field, it will invite unwarranted effort and aggression on the field. Good football player or not, no one wants to 'lose to the gay guy.'"

How will his announcement change the league? "I'm hoping that this announcement enables other homosexual players to be comfortable enough to disclose their sexual orientation to their respective organizations if they feel the need to. I am a Christian and do not believe that sinful acts should be celebrated/praised or judged by man. I commend him for his courage to come forth with this, but I do not idolize him. We are role models to many and certain things in our personal lives should not be broadcasted to the masses. The influence of a professional [soon to be] athlete is something that should be used wisely for the betterment of society."


Anonymous player


What are the greatest challenges facing Michael Sam in the NFL? "His biggest obstacle will be the conservative, religious owners. Trust me, he will be welcomed in the NFL by the players. Sexuality has nothing to do with the type of player that he is. It is not a big deal. None whatsoever. Look, the whole story is out in the open. Everyone in the locker room knows that he is gay. We all know he's not coming in the locker room trying to make a move on anybody. Come on. It's not going to happen. People will not let this become another Jonathan Martin situation. It will not be tolerated. There is nothing to hide here. There are no secrets. He is gay. So what? I think by now we all realize that sexuality has no bearing on the type of football player a person is. At the end of the day, we are all just trying to win games."

How will his announcement change the league? "Honestly, what is going to change? He's a defensive end. Maybe a linebacker at the NFL level. Just because he's gay doesn't change any of that. He's a football player like everybody else. This is why I haven't been swept up in this story. There are gay players right now across the NFL. There are gay players right now in the NBA. There are gay players in MLB. We know there are gay professional athletes. The sports themselves haven't changed one bit. There will always be gay athletes. The whole 'changing the sports landscape,' I don't know, I don't see that happening. He will be accepted. He is gay. He will hopefully be a good NFL player. End of story."


Anonymous player


General comment: "I have no problem with it, but I am also an oddity in the NFL. The majority of guys will have a hard time with the new kid on the block as the mob mentality always does. I see it as any civil rights movement, the first one through the wall will get bloody."

What are the greatest challenges facing Michael Sam in the NFL? "His greatest challenge will be proving to teammates that their stereotypes are unjust. Also proving to teams he is good enough to play at this level -- which, on the field, is all anyone cares about."

How will his announcement change the league? "His announcement will hold the attention of football fans while there is no football to be played."


Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron


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What are the greatest challenges facing Michael Sam in the NFL? "I think the greatest challenge he'll face is the media and people outside of football judging him and his situation. If he were on our team, I know a lot of guys would accept him and I know I would. It's not our call to judge him for his sexual orientation. He's a football player and this is a brotherhood. It's important to embrace him, and I know our team would embrace him. I think this is a good thing for football."

How will his announcement change the league? "That's a hard one to say. I would hope that it would be a positive thing where guys can welcome him to the team and also guys can come out and say what they are and nobody will judge them. This is a brotherhood and guys should be accepting. It's a league with a lot of grown men who are mature men, and the way a man is inside is none of our business."


Anonymous player


What are the greatest challenges facing Michael Sam in the NFL? "I think, on the surface, there shouldn't be any challenges. We've come so far in the past decade of kind of accepting the fact, theoretically, that 10 percent of males are gay. We've come so far as accepting people as being that way. My experiences in life have opened my eyes that it doesn't matter. I respect people's opinions and beliefs as well. I don't know how to equate it -- is it more natural or is it a choice? For me, the only thing I can control is my reaction. It's not a big deal to me having a gay player in the locker room at all."

How will his announcement change the league? "I would say, on average, because you have to have that macho mentality in the NFL, I feel like there are a lot of homophobic people in this business than probably any other industry. The macho mentality is built up; you cannot show any weakness. How many times has a coach said something like 'Stop running like a girl'? You always have that masculine mentality; that being a habit you develop, it almost becomes people's character. I would definitely think it would make it a more professional environment, where [you] have to watch what you say. The locker-room environment can be very brutal at times, guys razzing each other back and forth. Sometimes it escalates to the point of seriousness where guys start fighting out of nowhere, especially on the practice field -- exercise-induced anger. That cultivates that locker-room mentality and environment. You now might have to be more professional in what you say."


Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins


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What are the greatest challenges facing Michael Sam in the NFL? "The greatest challenge facing him is not his sexual orientation but his ability to play football. This is a stressful job already and there are challenges of making the team on a year-to-year basis. There are no guaranteed contracts, so if people on the outside think his sexual orientation will cause stress or challenges, it's just one more to add to a pile we face. This is a competitive business with a lot of media. I'm sure he's used to facing pressure and stress already. It's nothing new to him if he has to face more. But his biggest challenge is what the rest of us face, which is making a team, staying in the league and playing at a high level. The way the culture in society is going, people are more tolerant or accepting, right or wrong, of whatever your orientation is. Going forward the pressure is, 'Can I stay in the league?' In this day and age, it's so uncool to not accept him. The cool thing is to accept someone like that. He'll probably face less rookie hazing and initiation because everyone will be afraid to put him in a jeopardizing situation.

How will his announcement change the league? "It's changing the league because it's uncharted territory. Anytime you go through a new experience, you're going to go through change."


St. Louis Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis


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What are the greatest challenges facing Michael Sam in the NFL? "I think it's just about him making a football team. He's going to be treated like anybody else except he'll probably have more media attention. But when he gets there, it's going to be all about 'OK, how do I make the football team?' Whatever team he goes to, every coaching staff is going to judge him on how he does between the white lines. That's all you can ever do. There's a lot of players in the NFL that have a lot of backgrounds. We are all judged on what we do between the white lines. That's the exact same for Michael."

How will his announcement change the league? "It gives the players in the NFL a chance to show their character. They should treat Michael like he's a human being and every human being deserves to be treated the same, with respect, and when you show people respect, they respect you back. It's as simple as that. People are trying to make this way more complicated than it is. I understand it's a big deal because it's the first person to do it. Quite frankly, if he's a St. Louis Ram, treat him with respect and get to know him just like I would my other teammates. His sexual orientation isn't going to -- I don't think in our locker room -- really matter. I don't think it will across the league.

"I think right now it gives the NFL players an opportunity to show kind of their class. We have a lot of different backgrounds in our locker room and there's a lot of people that might have different political views than me, might have different faith views than me and all of that, but it doesn't mean I don't treat them with respect and treat them as a human being and care for them and love my teammates. When you go into battle and you have one common goal of winning the Super Bowl, you are going to love your teammates that you go to battle with. Can I trust this guy on the football field and does he have my back? If those answers are 'yes,' then I'm going to battle for you."


Anonymous player


What are the greatest challenges facing Michael Sam in the NFL? "The immaturity of NFL athletes. Because we're all given so much at a young age so none of us have to grow up. You're still dealing with teenagers aside from some who are in their 30s. But, generally, it's a very immature group. A lot of guys are coddled all the way through high school. In college, most are there three years and once you get to the NFL, you get a s---load of money and you go have fun. There's no real world yet, and that will be difficult."

How will his announcement change the league? "I don't think it will. It's just one person. I know there's more than just him, but it's one person [who's out] who's not even in a locker room yet. The NFL is such a giant entity that it's pretty difficult to make any change."


Arizona Cardinals offensive tackle Eric Winston


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What are the greatest challenges facing Michael Sam in the NFL? "I think it's his abilities. Just from the little I've read they say he's a bit of a tweener. I really believe a lot of this will come down to how well he can play on the field, and the off-the-field stuff will be a little bit overblown."

How will his announcement change the league? "I think it'll make more guys aware in a sense. I think for whatever reason guys are willing to stick their heads in the sand and think other gay players have never played in the NFL. That's a statistical improbability. I think in that way, I think it'll open up guys' eyes that there's a lot of different kinds of people in the locker room. Not just from a lot of different backgrounds, but everything. It'll force guys to be a little more open-minded."


Minnesota Vikings fullback Jerome Felton


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What are the greatest challenges facing Michael Sam in the NFL? "Just all the attention he's going to receive. For me, personally, I don't care if a guy's straight, gay, bisexual, whatever. But one of the issues is going to be he's going to get a lot of attention for a guy that hasn't done anything on the field yet. When you have all that attention before you've earned it in the NFL -- [Manti] Te'o struggled early, but found his way later -- this is an initial-step type of deal. If you struggle, it's magnified times 10. That's going to be a challenge. I'm watching ESPN, and [Sam] is all you see right now. Once it's all said and done, he'll be judged on football."

How will his announcement change the league? "I think it could kind of breathe some fresh air into the league, depending on how his process goes, the things that happen to him. He's probably going to affect if other people decide if they want to come out, and whether they choose to get ahead of it like he's done. I'm sure his experience in the next three months, six months, a year to two years, will affect how people think it will be handled for them [if they decide to come out]. If he has a great experience, I'm sure you'll see it happen more often. If he doesn't make it, that might deter other people. A lot of it will be based on his experiences going forward."


Vikings defensive end Brian Robison


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What are the greatest challenges facing Michael Sam in the NFL? "I think, really, one of the biggest challenges will be how guys act in the locker room. If anybody's ever been in a locker room, there's a lot of stuff that gets thrown around. You'll have to know how you can be around a guy and how far you can go with him."

How will his announcement change the league? "I don't really know, to be totally honest with you. I didn't know what was going on until [Monday] morning, when I got a text asking me if the league was ready for this. I had no clue what anybody was talking about. For me, it shouldn't change anything. He's already told his teammates; it really shouldn't matter. The bottom line is we're trying to achieve the same goal. None of it should matter."


Colts long-snapper Matt Overton


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What are the greatest challenges facing Michael Sam in the NFL? "Michael Sam has become a trailblazer overnight and with that comes the unfortunate reality of criticism and hatred. I believe he will be accepted and comfortable within the locker room but will face challenges outside of the game from ignorant and hateful people. I believe Mike to be a strong individual who is comfortable with who he is. I bet he will be great for the NFL and will handle himself very well outside of the game."

How will his announcement change the league? "We have all been waiting for guys to come out. It's just a matter of time and I applaud Mike for his courage, especially before the big job interview of the combine and draft process. I believe more players will come out now. I can't imagine what these guys are going through and I can only see more positives coming out from their situation by being up-front and honest. That way they can focus on football and their performance on the field and they can walk around being themselves. This is good for the NFL, all sports and humanity."


Carolina Panthers guard Geoff Hangartner


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What are the greatest challenges facing Michael Sam in the NFL? "Media attention. The media attention is going to be the hardest thing for him. You guys are going to write about it. They're going to document every step of his career in a way a guy not in that position wouldn't have to.

"I was a fifth-round draft pick and nobody documented anything I did. Everything he does will be under the microscope."

How will his announcement change the league? "I don't know. That remains to be seen. It's obviously a hot social topic. The inner circle tends to want to stay away from social topics."


Anonymous player


What are the greatest challenges facing Michael Sam in the NFL? "Everybody is going to be different. Me, personally, I have no problem with his sexual preference. I look at him as a man. I don't judge anyone by what he does off the field. I judge them by what he does on the field."

How will his announcement change the league? "I could see more guys coming out. I'm sure they have just as much stress on them trying to keep it away from others. They might not want Michael Sam to be alone. Maybe they come out and have his back, too. I could see it changing in a good way. Eventually, it was going to happen anyway. Probably more guys who are undercover but don't want to come out [do so]. Some guys probably know about guys on their team already, but don't say anything about it."


Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny


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What are the greatest challenges facing Michael Sam in the NFL? "I think for the most part, I think the vast majority of guys will be very accepting. If he's a good person, good teammate, he can play, he'll be accepted just like anybody else. At this point, it's not a big deal to the majority of our teammates and the NFL. Are you going to have someone that's out of line? Absolutely. That's going to happen regardless of whether you're playing in the NFL or you're a mechanic for Boeing. That'll probably be the most difficult thing for him. I think that will be rare. The vast majority will be very accepting."

How will his announcement change the league? "With the fact that now there will be an openly gay player in the NFL, people will have to be more tolerant. No doubt about it. People have to be very accepting. The league is progressing just like the rest of society and people realize this is the way it's going to be. The good thing is he took this step, made a courageous step, and this time next year we could have a handful of guys. It's not a big deal."


Jaguars guard Uche Nwaneri


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What are the greatest challenges facing Michael Sam in the NFL? "There's going to be a lot of challenges. Obviously the country is much more open and much more accepting of people who are homosexual. It's not anything that's new in society in general. ... I do think he's going to have to deal with people who don't believe in what he stands for. That's with everybody. Everyone has to overcome some kind of adversity and usually it's adversity that deals with people who say you can't do something or you're not good enough. For him to add on to that, now he has to deal with people who are going to criticize and judge him because of his personal life, something that doesn't have anything to do with his job, his profession. Those things are going to happen. Fans in the crowd are going to say things. There are a lot of things that I assume he'll have to deal with but as an athlete we're all built on character, all built to have some character, and it's really just another hurdle he's going to have to overcome.

"He's also going to have to overcome some bigotry. I know there's going to be a lot of people who support him as well. People sometimes choose sides and aren't willing to come down from what they believe or think is right. Me, personally, I feel like everybody has the right to be happy, so I would never shun a person or disassociate myself with someone just because their sexual orientation isn't the same as mine."

How will his announcement change the league? "We'll see. I'm not sure what the impact will be. Obviously, we're professionals and as adults we all focus on what's really important in our profession, and that's the game of football and building your team to win games and to give you an opportunity to play for a championship. That's what everybody comes into the league with as the ultimate goal. I feel like that's where the focus should stay. I feel like it would be doing a disservice to everybody if there's a preponderance of coverage of this man because of his sexual orientation. Where if he didn't come out as an openly gay player it'd be business as usual for the league and the media. For me, the focus should stay on football. It's a great thing what he did. It takes a lot of courage to do that. The world is different today than it was 50 years ago. I feel like it shouldn't be an issue. It is still a great first for football."


Tennessee Titans center Brian Schwenke


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What are the greatest challenges facing Michael Sam in the NFL? "The NFL is full of different people from all over with different ideologies and views on being gay. It is almost inevitable that he will come across people, whether they are coaches, players or fans, that don't agree with his sexuality. I believe his biggest challenge will be dealing with those people."

How will his announcement change the league? "Hopefully, Michael Sam's announcement will build a more tolerant environment for the gay community in sports, and make it easier for other athletes to come out."


Anonymous player


What are the greatest challenges facing Michael Sam in the NFL? "Obviously the biggest thing for Michael Sam will be the team accepting him for who he is. Guys will need to deal with having a gay teammate. I think it will also be important that Sam has a group of guys around him that are willing to help him adjust to his surroundings and transition to life in the NFL. Believe it or not, we had a gay kicker on our college team. He told us all. The whole team knew. And I swear, nobody treated him any differently. We all accepted him and were cool with him choosing to live his life as a gay man. I had no problem with him at all. It was all good."

How will his announcement change the league? "Without question it is going to change the league. I think there is a chance that guys who are gay in the NFL but haven't come out, will come out to their teammates during the upcoming season. I bet that happens. Maybe they won't go public like Michael Sam, but they'll feel more comfortable being honest with the other guys in the locker room."



New York Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas


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What are the greatest challenges facing Michael Sam in the NFL? "Like any other rookie, but his challenge is a lot harder. The attention on him is going to bring attention to the team -- unwanted attention, questions that the players, the coaches, the whole organization is going to have to answer, and that's a lot for one player to carry by himself. You just look at what happened this year with the Miami Dolphins situation. That became something we were being asked about every day in our locker room, and it wasn't even our team. And they're the kinds of questions where you have to think carefully about how you phrase things."

How will his announcement change the league? "Hard to say. I think it's torn. I think society is ready for it and America's ready for it, but I don't think the NFL is. As a player, all you want to know is if he can play. That's on the field. But in the locker room, it's different. There's a lot of talk and joking around, and some guys walk around completely naked all the time, and they might not want to do that anymore. When you add that situation to the mix, I think it's going to make some people uncomfortable. Things are changing, and certain change is inevitable. We have to look at him like a brother and can't treat him any different. But that could be difficult for some people, just the way our locker rooms work."

More from Thomas

Cincinnati Bengals OT Andrew Whitworth


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What are the greatest challenges facing Michael Sam in the NFL? "The biggest challenge is that he's got to play NFL football and that's not going to be easy. I just hope that like I've said before, in a locker room, in an environment where guys have been accepting of other guys for a long time of many different backgrounds, whether it was homosexuality or not -- there's a lot of different backgrounds where a lot of us differ on many things personally -- we're still accepting of each other. But I don't think that's going to be his issue. The biggest thing will be the media and the fans, and there's always going to be the yahoos out there that are fans that don't represent what anybody's about, but they're going to give him a hard time because they disagree. So that's going to be out there. So the biggest challenge for him is just going to be about doing his job and not allow anybody's opinion outside of that to detour his focus of playing in the NFL."

How will his announcement change the league? "I would assume that maybe there will be more guys who would speak out and say they are. Or maybe there won't be. Again, maybe a lot of them will sit around and kind of see how this plays out. You just never know. The main thing, though, is that he has done it, and it's a relief off his shoulders and would think that the majority of people will embrace him and accept him. It doesn't mean that they're for it or any of that kind of stuff. It just means that the right thing to do is to be accepting, whether you agree or not. Treat him just like anybody else. That will happen with the majority of the NFL. I don't think we're in an environment that's much different than any other workplace."


Detroit Lions WR Nate Burleson


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What are the greatest challenges facing Michael Sam in the NFL? "I would say opposing teams fans. Not as much players. You'll get an occasional jerk that might try to say something, but players, we're respectful. This generation of athletes, they rarely cross that line to degrade somebody or attack somebody's orientation or their lifestyle. I'm more concerned about playing in different stadiums. Not every fan is crazy, but just like we saw with Marcus Smart, that guy is probably a decent dude but from what I took in watching the specials, he said whatever he needed to say to get in a player's head. ... But like I said on TV, for him coming out and being proud about it, and wanting everybody to know who he is, he knows it's going to come. He's prepared for it, at least. If it doesn't happen, then it doesn't happen. But I don't see him jumping into the crowd and pulling a Ron Artest. He's going to know, 'OK, I might go to one of those wild stadiums and hear something that is going to get my skin to rise and my blood to boil.' He's prepared for it."

How will his announcement change the league? "It doesn't change the league at all. The league is still the same league it's been. He made the announcement for reasons unknown but for reasons he understands, and that's really all that matters. What most people aren't talking about is that nobody particularly cares about an NFL player's sexual orientation in the locker room."

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