How will the NFL handle an openly gay player? A new, anonymous survey of NFL players suggests that there won't be much of an issue.
When Missouri star defensive end Michael Sam came out as gay last week, he became the first college player to do so with realistic hopes of entering the NFL. Troublingly, early quotes from anonymous football decision-makers suggested there would be some hesitancy to accept Sam and any other potential gay players.
On Monday, though, 86 percent of the 51 NFL players ESPN interviewed said a player's sexual orientation would not matter to them. Similarly, just over three-quarters of those interviewed said they would shower around a gay player. Those are both overwhelming majorities, as several journalists pointed out, and a sharp rebuke of the anonymous executives who suggested players would not accept a gay teammate.
ESPN's survey also shows that anonymity doesn't have to be a prerequisite for homophobic sentiments. Last week, Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans spoke to eight anonymous front-office decision-makers for their opinions on Sam's news, and The MMQB reporter Peter King, too, granted anonymity (unasked) to several others for their hot takes. Almost all insisted that Sam's presence would cause issues in locker rooms, that NFL players couldn't handle a gay teammate, that he would cause a "distraction," and that he would be drafted lower because of his announcement. It looked like bad news for Sam until today's survey of acceptance.
Individually, the survey's respondents largely said they wouldn't mind a gay player, but their answers do show a belief that others may have a problem. 32 of the 51 said that a teammate used a gay slur in the past season, and only half said that the gay player would feel comfortable in a locker room. Whether or not that perception of homophobic others is true is yet to be seen.
But while Sam's soon-to-be peers are beginning to warm up to him, Missouri teammates and the team's fan base has thoroughly rallied around Sam since his announcement. At a basketball home game over the weekend, fans gave a standing ovation to Sam and the football team during a halftime trophy presentation. The cheers grew especially loud when Sam, a team captain, held the trophy aloft. You can watch that whole heartwarming scene below.