Maybe Michael Sam will fit in NFL just fine

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 23, 2014 at 8:49 pm •  Published: February 23, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The NFL locker room has long been an unforgiving place.

There's a reason the popular behind-the-scenes training camp reality show on HBO is called "Hard Knocks," right?

The aggression and confidence inherent with elite athletes playing a physically punishing sport can bring about a boys-will-be-boys atmosphere that, considering the case in Miami last season, has the potential to turn brutal.

But with Michael Sam on the verge of becoming the league's first openly gay player, maybe he'll fit in just fine. This is 2014, after all. Sexual orientation isn't as big of a deal for Sam's generation as it was for their fathers'.

Though the stigma of the offensive linemen bullying scandal was still swarming the Dolphins, there were signs at the NFL scouting combine this weekend that the locker room is a more modern, tolerant environment it might be given credit for. It's easy to say the right things, but some of those words still spoke volumes inside Lucas Oil Stadium.

"Those problems in Miami, those surprise me because I think that we never had those issues in Denver when it came down to the things that went on in that locker room and the things that were said," said Hall of Famer John Elway, Denver's executive vice president of football operations and general manager. "I think every locker room that I've ever been in in the NFL and the guys I've been around have always respected the right of other players. There is a line you don't cross. I still believe that's the way the majority of the NFL is."

Sam's former Missouri teammate, wide receiver L'Damian Washington, wondered what all the fuss was about with questions about whether Sam would be welcomed by his peers in the league when the Tigers had no problem doing so.

"Most of the guys already knew him and it wasn't a big deal, but we had freshmen on the team who were 17 years old out of high school — 17 years out of high school you're pretty immature," Washington said. "They just could be like, 'Aw, we've got a gay guy on our team.' But those guys embraced it, because he was a great teammate. He was a great guy. He never brought any of that to the locker room. I feel like if a 17-year-old freshman can accept the fact that a teammate has a different preference in sex, then why can't 33-year-old vets accept that fact?"

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