In the wake of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam coming out, and the possibility of him becoming the NFL’s first openly gay player after the May draft, ESPN.com’s NFL Nation and ESPN The Magazine asked NFL players, on the condition of anonymity, four true-false questions about their thoughts on having a gay teammate.
Although the survey showed that most players aren’t concerned with another’s sexual orientation, it also made clear the concerns that players would have with learning how to relate to an openly gay teammate.
Forty-four players said a teammate’s sexual orientation didn’t matter to them, and 39 said they would be comfortable showering around a gay teammate. But 32 players said they had teammates or coaches who used homophobic slurs last season, and when asked whether an openly gay player would be comfortable in a NFL locker room, just 25 players said yes; 21 said no, while five declined to answer.
One concern for players appeared to be learning how they could relate to a teammate they knew was gay and whether they would need to behave any differently around him.
According to one starting receiver, “Whoever takes [Sam in the draft] should have an open talk at the beginning of camp, where everybody can ask what he’s comfortable with, what offends him, what boundaries there should be. When it comes to race, people already know the boundaries, to a certain extent. But I don’t think football players are overly familiar with what can and can’t be said around a gay person.”
Sam, who announced he is gay in a Feb. 9 interview with ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” said his Missouri teammates rallied around him last season after he revealed his sexual orientation to them.
“I’m telling you what: I wouldn’t have the strength to do this today if I didn’t know how much support they’d given me this past semester,” he said in the interview.
But one NFL starting tight end, who believes Sam will encounter some difficulties in the league, said, “There is a little more of a family environment in college. It was more like having brothers. In the NFL, you have friends, but it’s a more work-oriented environment. I hope guys can be professional and respect who he is and leave his personal life out of it.”
Sam, who was co-SEC defensive player of the year last season, is expected to be drafted between the third and fifth rounds in May. He had 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss in 2013, leading the SEC in both categories.