NFL Nation Says: Michael Sam's reception
"Let me tell you something, if we were playing the Vikings right now, I'd probably have three sacks the first game," Sam said. "Since February and my big announcement, this has been a whole [lot of] speculation of the first openly gay football player. But you know what? It's not about that. It's about playing football."
As Sam attempts to blaze a trail as the first openly gay athlete to compete in the NFL, it's expected that his journey could hit rough spots and cause consternation among peers. We asked several Hall of Famers before last week's draft about Sam and how he might be received in an NFL locker room.
Some pondered the unknown, while Redskins Hall of Fame running back Bobby Mitchell even said that Sam could be subject to harsh remarks from “some nut.” Having played in a vastly different NFL from the one we see today, most of the Hall of Famers expect Sam to be embraced by teammates and peers around the league. Ultimately, it’s about what Sam brings to the team as a player, not his personal relationships outside the locker room, according to the Hall of Famers.
“I’m not saying some nut over in the corner just wanting to be an ass won’t say something,” Mitchell said. “You know how crazy we athletes are. And I know it was tough for him [to reveal his sexuality] because he knows how crazy we are. It was tough for him to come out, I'm sure, because he doesn't know which faction is going to come out first. I don't think he's going to have any problem."
Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson played in the 1980s for the New York Giants with Roy Simmons, who announced he was gay after leaving the NFL. Carson considers the Sam story a nonissue and said he’s proud of the defensive end.
"We all have our lives to live and choose to live the way we want to live," Carson said. "When ballplayers get together, as long as you can play the game -- that's the thing -- if you can help the team win, we have no problem."
"If there are five [NFL players] sitting around and nobody is listening to us, this subject never comes up. Why would I make a comment on it? I wouldn't make a comment on it when we played. I'm certain we knew some guys may or may not have been gay, but we just didn't think about it. We played football. We didn't care what anybody does as long as they perform on the field. When guys sit around the room and there's nobody there to ask them questions, the subject doesn't come up."
-- Tight end Dave Casper, Raiders (1974-80, '84), Oilers (1980-83), Vikings (1983)
-- Cornerback Michael Haynes (Patriots 1976-82), (Raiders 1983-89)
-- Halfback/flanker Bobby Mitchell (Browns 1958-61), Redskins (1962-68)
-- Linebacker Harry Carson (Giants 1976-88)
-- Barry Sanders (Lions, 1989-98)
-- Roger Wehrli (Cardinals 1969-82)
-- Lem Barney (Lions 1967-77)