There is a difference between expressing an honest opinion about a controversial topic and being discriminatory or insensitive. Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark expressed concern on Monday over the prospect of Michael Sam playing in the NFL, but he did it without being homophobic.
Sam, an All-American defensive end at Missouri, came out publicly as gay on Sunday. He was originally projected to be drafted somewhere in the middle rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft, though it is unclear if his revelation will affect his draft stock. Clark — and I’m sure many others — is wondering if having an openly gay teammate will affect the locker room dynamic.
“You want to know how you can behave around this person,” he said on SportsCenter, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. “Anyone who has been in a football locker room knows that there’s a lot of jokes, a lot of ribbing. We’ll talk about anything. If a guy is fat. If a guy is ugly. If a guy’s significant other is not attractive. These are things you josh each other about and you talk with each other about.
“In what ways can you talk to him? In what ways can you involve him in your conversations? What are the things you can do and say around him that won’t make him uncomfortable? That won’t make him feel that he’s being ostracized? Or that won’t make him feel like he’s being harassed or quote, unquote bullied?”
First of all, Sam would have one very significant thing in common with his teammates — they’re all football players. Sam has been around locker room banter his entire life and all indications are that his teammates at Missouri held the utmost respect for him. We know football players talk about women, but Sam would not automatically feel uncomfortable with that.
The fact that Sam is gay doesn’t mean his teammates can’t give him a hard time. There’s a difference between being hateful and needling someone. Seahawks fullback Derrick Coleman is the only deaf player in Seattle’s locker room, and I doubt his teammates feel uncomfortable interacting with him.
Would it require some adjusting? Most likely, and some players have already indicated that having a gay teammate could change locker room culture. Change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sam won’t be the last football player to reveal he is gay. The time to start getting used to it is now.