Gay player presents questions for NFL at draft Combine

sruinsky@newsobserver.comFebruary 22, 2014 

At the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, one of the most interesting players might be Michael Sam, the University of Missouri defensive star who told the New York Times earlier this month that he is gay.

Sam is scheduled to attend this weekend’s Combine, where pro football teams evaluate college prospects in advance of the draft. If drafted or signed as a free agent, the 6-2, 255 pound pass rusher would be the first openly gay player in an NFL locker room.

Usually, football teams pepper prospects with questions at the Combine. Players run and jump and are timed and tape-measured. This year, with an openly gay athlete to evaluate, it might be NFL coaches and general managers who face the toughest questions.

For the teams considering drafting or signing Sam, here are two models to ponder.

In New Jersey, the NBA’s Nets have worked out and are considering signing openly gay basketball player Jason Collins, according to ESPN.

Collins, 35, a 7-foot center who played for the Washington Wizards last season, would be the first openly gay player in an NBA locker room and the first on an active roster of a team in any of the four major pro sports. He also came out in an interview, with Sports Illustrated last spring.

Signing Collins, who is a free agent, would force Nets players to decide if they will accept an openly gay teammate.

In Miami, a chunk of the recent locker room leadership has already spoken on the subject.

Richie Incognito, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey were found in an independent report to have hurled homophobic slurs at an unnamed player while they were bullying teammate Jonathan Martin and an assistant trainer. Their behavior showed that in their locker room, off-color comments about homosexuality were a go-to source of humor. Incognito, a coach and the head trainer have all been dismissed from the team.

At the Combine, Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin, addressed his club’s behavior, promising a better workplace atmosphere in the future, but it isn’t clear whether Miami would be an acceptable destination for Sam.

Will a pro sports locker room accept an openly gay player?

The Nets, by signing Collins, would have the chance to answer yes.

The Dolphins, by their locker room mischief, have showed why this is still a question.

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