Since Michael Sam came out, he’s gone from being a beloved college football player to being a gay folk hero and a minor celebrity. But the question that remains is whether Sam can overcome the “locker-room culture” that permeates the NFL.
The good news is that someone high up in the league seems to think Sam can do it. According to The Huffington Post, during the Pro Football Hall of Fame Fan Fest 2014, HoF offensive tackle Art Shell commented on Sam and the current state of homophobia in the league.
When the subject of Sam came up, Shell voiced his opinion, saying, “I don’t think he’ll have any problem in the locker room. I don’t think he’ll have any problems on the field . . . The one thing about football players, they’re inclusive. They will take you for who you are, not what people try to portray you as.”
Apparently, Shell isn’t alone in his opinion: the sentiment was shared by such Hall of Famers as Lions running back Barry Sanders, Buffalo coach Marv Levy and Giants linebacker Harry Carson.
Assuming Sam does get drafted (knock on wood), it will be interesting to see if Shell’s words are reflected in the way the players, the league and the fans actually treat an openly gay player. It’s easy for people to believe in equality, but it’s another thing entirely to conduct yourself in a way that makes equality possible. If the NFL can live up to these expectations, that would be amazing, but there needs to be some action to make any of this mean something.