When out college football star Michael Sam eventually joins an NFL team and becomes the league's first openly gay player, he'll be judged only on his performance on the field, not his sexuality, say several football Hall of Famers.
"I don't think he'll have any problem in the locker room. I don't think he'll have any problems on the field," former Raiders offensive tackle Art Shell told the Associated Press this weekend, when he appeared with about 100 other Hall of Famers at a Fan Fest in Cleveland. "The one thing about football players, they're inclusive. They will take you for who you are, not what people try to portray you as."
"Shell's stance was shared by several other Hall of Famers, including Lions running back Barry Sanders, Buffalo coach Marv Levy, and Giants linebacker Harry Carson," the AP reports.
"From the time you're a kid and you start playing, you're almost programmed for 'Can a guy play or not?'" Sanders said. "By the time you get to the NFL, that's well ingrained. I'm pretty sure every guy in this league has been around gay individuals before, and so I don't think it will be much different."
Carson, who said he's proud of Sam for coming out, noted that his Giants teammate Roy Simmons was thought to be gay (Simmons, who died in February, came out after retiring), but it made no difference to the other players. "It never really swayed anyone's opinion of him," Carson said. "But it's something he lived with and he didn't have to by himself because he had teammates, and the teammates he had were guys who supported him. Even though he never said anything, we're a team and guys on the team who are unselfish are going to support their teammates regardless of how they choose to live their lives."
Still, it may not have been feasible for an NFL player to come out in decades past, said Michael Haynes, who played cornerback for the Patriots and the Raiders in the 1970s and '80s. Sam is "a very bold guy to come out," Haynes told the AP, adding, "The timing is good. If he'd done that in the '60s or '70s, maybe not so good because everybody was really struggling with how to understand differences like that in people." That has changed, he said: "Remember Magic Johnson with AIDS? It starts with education. He'll be judged on football."
The NFL draft of college players will take place in the coming week.