CB: NFL not ready for gay player

Updated: February 12, 2014, 1:59 PM ET
By Dan Graziano | ESPN.com

Michael Sam's announcement that he is gay has been the story of the week in the NFL, and players in the league know the story is just beginning.

For that reason and for others, New York Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas said Sam could find acceptance in NFL locker rooms difficult to come by.

"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," Thomas told ESPN.com in a phone interview Tuesday night.

ThomasI 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.

-- The Giants' Terrell Thomas, on an openly gay player in the NFL

"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."

Sam, an All-American pass-rusher at Missouri, announced he is gay during an interview Sunday with ESPN's "Outside the Lines." Assuming he is drafted, Sam would become the first openly gay player in NFL history.

Thomas said he was personally unsure about the situation because of his "views as a Christian," and he was concerned that players might act differently with Sam around.

"I think society is ready for it and America's ready for it, but I don't think the NFL is," Thomas said. "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."

Pressed on the likelihood that he's already played on teams with gay players, Thomas said, "I'm pretty sure I have.

"But there's a difference between knowing and not knowing that changes a lot of things," he said. "You're talking about playing in the NFL, the grind, the brotherhood, the joking that goes along with it. The locker room may not be ready for that, because it's the kind of thing that changes everything.

"It may make guys feel like they have to change the way they carry themselves and some of the things they say. You're talking about a league where things have been done a certain way for a long time, and now you're going to expect people to change, and people may not know how to do that the right way."

Sam came out to his Missouri teammates before the 2013 season, and the team embraced him. The Tigers (12-2) were No. 5 in the final Associated Press poll.

"That's the hardest question: If a bunch of 18-year-olds can accept him, why can't a bunch of grown men?" Thomas said. "I just think it's different when you put him in an NFL locker room with a bunch of grown men, the way we are around each other, and with people who don't already know him.

"Their locker room accepted him, but at the same time, their locker room knew him before he came out. If he would have said it after his second year in the league, things might be different. But to come in as a rookie who nobody knows and have this be the big story, that could make it tough for some people to handle. It's going to put people on edge. Not necessarily make everybody uncomfortable, but maybe guys just might not know how to act."

Thomas played a full season for the Giants in 2013 after missing the previous two seasons because of ACL tears in his right knee. He is eligible for unrestricted free agency when the new league year opens March 11.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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