NORMAN — Michael Sam will face a daunting set of challenges that most rookies don’t have to deal with when making the already formidable jump from college to the NFL.
The SEC’s co-defensive player of the year is about to find out if America’s most popular sport, rooted in machismo and entrenched in locker room hijinks, is ready for its first openly gay player.
First, he’ll have to find a team willing to put up with the media circus that will surround him. Then, he’ll have to find acceptance like he did at Missouri, where his sexuality was a non-issue during a 12-2 season. Only now, he’ll face opponents and their fans who know he’s gay. He might even face cheap shots and teammates hesitant to shower alongside him or undress in his presence.
While several teams and coaches said Monday that Sam’s sexual orientation wouldn’t affect his draft status, former NFL punter Chris Kluwe, who contends his championing of gay rights led to his release from the Minnesota Vikings last year, wasn’t so sure.
“The majority of players will be supportive of Michael Sam or just won’t care,” Kluwe said. “You’ll have isolated guys here and there who might try to make a fuss about it, but players by and large are very much, ‘Hey, we’re here to do a job, we’re here to go out and play football.’
“In terms of the coaching/front office side, I think there’s where issues are going to arise because they are going to look at this like, ‘Hey, is this going to cause a distraction for the team?’ And by distraction, they mean, ‘We’re not really OK with having a gay player on our team, we can’t come out and say that, so we’re going to use the word distraction,”’ Kluwe added. “And unfortunately, those are the people who determine if you’re employed or not.”