Sam's tough road to acceptance

Michael Sam can be accepted and welcomed in a locker room by a majority of his teammates if he can play.

Problem is, he might annoy and even anger a lot of veterans before he has that chance, and that potentially looms as a big issue for the Missouri defensive end who announced he is gay.

Wherever Sam goes, his teammates will be asked about him. How is he in the locker room? How is he practicing? How quickly is he learning? What does he do best?

And some teammates will hate it. They might not hate Sam, but they will hate answering questions about a guy who has never played a down in the NFL.

You can keep your SEC Defensive Player of the Year award. NFL players don’t want to hear it. For an NFL player, it’s about playing in the NFL. It’s about being tough enough to play in the league. It’s about being good enough to play in the league.

But toughness comes first. That’s where respect from teammates develops and credibility follows.

I’m not talking about Sam’s sexuality. That toughness is not a shot at the gay stereotype. It’s about taking hits and delivering them. It’s about getting up and making an opponent struggle to get up.

It’s about surviving. That kind of toughness. That is an NFL player’s barometer and it can only come by playing in games -- NFL games, not college, no matter how good the SEC is.

A seven-year veteran, for example, has proven his smarts and toughness by surviving in the league for seven years, well past the average. That veteran has earned his spot and might believe he has earned attention, so, no, he doesn’t like the attention focused on a middle-round draft pick who has shown nothing in a pro football game.

The veteran doesn’t want to scout the kid for the media. He doesn’t want to focus on the kid for the public. He wants to keep his job. If he’s going to talk about a teammate, it would be someone who also has been tough enough and smart enough to survive the league.

This is not to say Sam won’t be accepted eventually by teammates. This is not to say they won’t be happy to talk about how he’s practicing or playing, but first, he has to play. Sam has to prove to his teammates that he has earned reps because he can play, not because the team has drafted an openly gay player that has everyone watching.

There will be enemies, sure. There will be troglodytes who’ll seize up because an openly gay man is in their midst.  Locker rooms are populated with felons, racists and other despicable sorts because they can play.

But locker rooms also are filled with players whose sexuality veers from baby mamas and paternity suits. They’re gay, but not open. They’re playing for the same reason as the criminals: They can help a team win.

That’s what a locker room should care about, and Sam could well help a team win, too. But it’s a long way from proving it in an actual game.

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Oklahoma fraternity's racist chant learned on a cruise
    Oklahoma fraternity's racist chant learned on a cruise

    Members of a University of Oklahoma fraternity apparently learned a racist chant that recently got their chapter disbanded during a national leadership cruise four years ago that was sponsored by the fraternity's national administration, the university's president said Friday.

  • In NYC building collapse, mayor cites 'inappropriately' tapped gas line; 2 missing
    In NYC building collapse, mayor cites 'inappropriately' tapped gas line; 2 missing

    Someone may have improperly tapped a gas line before an explosion that leveled three apartment buildings and injured nearly two dozen people, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday as firefighters soaked the still-smoldering buildings and police searched for at least two missing people.

  • Construction ongoing at Wrigley Field
    Construction ongoing at Wrigley Field

    From bleachers to structural details, work to renovate Wrigley Field continues.

  • Emanuel uses borrowing to cope with Daley's debt burden
    Emanuel uses borrowing to cope with Daley's debt burden

    Mayor Rahm Emanuel has reduced spending and increased fines, fees and certain taxes to shrink the chronic budget deficits left over from his predecessor, Richard M. Daley.

  • Six Flags Great America's lost attractions
    Six Flags Great America's lost attractions

    Not every ride's the Willard's Whizzer. That iconic coaster debuted in 1976 when Marriott's Great America, now Six Flags Great America, in Gurnee, Ill., first opened. And it's still popular today. But for every Whizzer there's a Tidal Wave, Shockwave or Z-Force, rides existing only in memory.

  • Denim's just getting started
    Denim's just getting started

    Five years ago, denim-on-denim defied all of the dire warnings in the "Undateable" handbook: Instead of evoking John Denver or Britney Spears in her misstyled youth, chambray shirts paired with darker blue jeans became as cool as actor Johnny Depp and street-style heroine Alexa Chung.