The public admission of Michael Sam, a defensive lineman on the University of Missouri Tigers football team, that he is gay immediately became a national news story.
But to many college football players, from his teammates at Missouri to others around the country, that news is unremarkable. They contend that their major focus should not be a player’s sexual orientation, but the ability to help the team win games.
“It really is not a big deal,” said Daniel Easterly, who is a fellow teammate of Sam's, playing safety for Missouri, speaking with BET.com.
“At the end of the day, he’s our teammate and we really don’t care,” Easterly said. “When he told us, nobody really had anything negative to say. He’s been a cool guy ever since we’ve known him. Why should things change because he told us something that he felt he should tell his family, especially when we consider him to be family?”
Easterly and others pointed out that the Missouri Tigers had their best season in many years, having ranked in the top 10 in college football teams and winning the Cotton Bowl over Oklahoma State. What matters most, many college football players say, is winning.
“He played an important role in our team winning a championship,” Easterly said. “The way I look at it, people want to be who they are and they don’t want to hide what is one of their most important features. Frankly, I don’t think this is the kind of thing that is going to be a big deal as time goes on.”
To a large degree, the opinions of Sam's college contemporaries — athletes born after 1990 — is a showcase for how dramatically public opinion has shifted on the topic of sexual preference. They have come of age in an era where gay Americans appear regularly on television and when the President of the United States has endorsed same-sex marriage.
Still, some players suggest that the ease with Sam’s teammates reacted to his admission is a reflection of the fact that they had played together for years and have bonded as a family of athletes. They suggest that there might be more friction for an openly gay player in the National Football League without the benefit of longtime relationships with fellow teammates.
“Knowing how the locker room is, it might be hard for players in other kinds of situations,” said Jordan Matthews, an All-American wide receiver from Vanderbilt University, speaking with BET.com.
“He and his teammates built up a relationship. And after you build a relationship, it’s easier to accept people for who they are. But what might well affect players is the media attention that the team will receive as a result of him being part of an NFL team.”
Matthews, who is the Southeastern Conference’s all-time leader in career receiving yards, added: “From my perspective, everybody has his own life to live and I think it’s wrong to discriminate against anyone.”
That was a sentiment echoed by several players in interviews. “I feel that people’s business is their business and someone’s preference is not my business,” said Brett Hundley, the quarterback with the UCLA Bruins, speaking with BET.com.
“To me, what’s important is that you can play the game of football. I think everyone should stick to his own business and not judge others.”
BET Sports News - Get the latest news and information about African-Americans in sports including weekly recaps, celebrity news and photos of your favorite Black athletes. Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.
Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan
(Photo: AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)