NFL Nation Says: Michael Sam's reception

May, 16, 2014
Michael Sam became a part of NFL history on Saturday when the St. Louis Rams used the 249th overall choice in the 2014 NFL draft to make the defensive end the first openly gay player to be drafted.

"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)

"I think he'll have a great NFL career. I think he's a very bold guy to come out, but the timing is good. If he would've come out in the '60s or '70s, things may be not so good because everybody was really struggling with how to understand differences like that in people. Diversity has become a critical topic. People are talking about it all the time. But I think the world is a different world."

-- Cornerback Michael Haynes (Patriots 1976-82), (Raiders 1983-89)

"I'm not saying that some nut over in the corner just wanting to be an ass won't say something. You know how crazy we athletes are. And I know it was tough for him because he knows how crazy we are. He understands all that. 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. I really don't, because guys have a tendency to say and do pretty well anything in the dressing room, and then they leave it alone. They don't take it out on the field. People have to understand the dressing room is home for athletes, and you get a lot of stuff coming out of there. That's why we try real hard not to bring the dressing room outside because the public can't understand, because we're saying and doing things that we wouldn't normally say and do."

-- Halfback/flanker Bobby Mitchell (Browns 1958-61), Redskins (1962-68)

"I'm very proud of him. I played years ago, and back in the early '80s I played with a player named Roy Simmons. There was some speculation that Roy was gay. That never really swayed anyone's opinion of him, the way that he played the game. He came out on 'Phil Donahue,' I think. It's something that he lived with but he didn't necessarily have to live with that by himself because he had teammates, and the teammates that he had were guys that supported him. He never said anything. We're a team, and guys on the team who are unselfish, they're going to support their teammate regardless of how they choose to live their life. It's for him. I was captain of that team, and I would have made certain that nothing would have happened, not on my watch."

-- Linebacker Harry Carson (Giants 1976-88)

"I don't think there will be any problem. I think from the time that you're a kid and you start playing, your major focus, you're almost programmed to look for, OK, can a guy play or not? I think once you get to the NFL, I think that's well-ingrained in you. I'm pretty sure that every guy in this league has been around gay individuals before, and so I don't think that'll be much different."

-- Barry Sanders (Lions, 1989-98)

"He'll be received fine. In the locker room, people don't worry about the personal life that much. As long as you produce on the field, as long as you're a good teammate, he'll get along fine. You know, he went to my alma mater, Mizzou, and his teammates there, there were no problems. They got along fine. So he'll do all right."

-- Roger Wehrli (Cardinals 1969-82)

"That's a very touchy situation. It hasn't been in the league before. But I'm sure there have been other gay guys in the league that have slipped through the curtains and weren't even on the board as possibly being [gay]. But now there's one that has now come open, and it's open to the public. I really don't know how they're going to react to it. Hopefully, he gets a chance to go into the league and the coaches look at him fairly [and say]: 'If he can help us, we're going to keep him regardless of whatever sex preference he has because he can help us.' On the other side of it, if he doesn't come in and perform at the level of what they're looking for, he's not going to be around long at all."

-- Lem Barney (Lions 1967-77)




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