A former Seahawk says most players likely wouldn't have a problem with an openly gay teammate, but he worries about the media and political groups fanning the flames long after highly-touted NFL prospect Michael Sam joins the league.
"I think the problem is going to be the media that want to break the story," former Seahawks center Robbie Tobeck told the Brock and Danny Show on 710 ESPN Seattle Monday. "Now this is a political issue, so all the political groups out there are going to be wanting some fuel for their fire and fundraising."
Sam, an All-American defensive lineman from Missouri, publicly revealed he's gay on Sunday.
"I understand how big this is," Sam said in the ESPN interview. "It's a big deal. No one has done this before. And it's kind of a nervous process, but I know what I want to be ... I want to be a football player in the NFL."
His disclosure was welcomed by a number of players, including Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith. The Super Bowl MVP praised Sam's courage in a Twitter post.
There is no room for bigotry in American sports. It takes courage to change the culture.— Malcolm Smith (@MalcSmitty) February 10, 2014
Tobeck says if Sam is sincere and acts like a professional football player in the locker room, he should be welcomed by most players. The 14-year veteran says he played with a closeted teammate he and his teammates knew about, and it posed no problem.
"If that's the case, and that's the attitude he takes into the locker room and says 'hey I want to be one of the guys, you know I just like guys,' I think it'll be just fine."
Sam said in interviews Sunday he told his Missouri teammates last August he was gay and had no problems or repercussions. It certainly didn't hurt him on the field, where along with being first team All-American, he was also named his team's most valuable player and the top defensive player in the Southeastern Conference, considered the nation's best.
"I hope he gets a fair football evaluation, but I worry for him a number of teams will consider it a distraction and not give him a shot," says 710 ESPN's Danny O'Neil.
That seems to be the consensus of a number of insiders, including Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated. Thamel tells Brock and Danny after speaking with eight different NFL insiders "the blunt expectation from NFL people is it will negatively effect his draft stock."
"People are going to be worried about a locker room element that's never been introduced. Obviously, the NFL is a risk averse place with risk averse people running it."
Thamel also says Sam isn't a "slam-dunk" like other top-rated players because of his size and specific skill set, which could also hurt his draft standing with teams that have any hesitation.
Former Seahawks quarterback Brock Huard says he thinks most players wouldn't make a big issue out of Sam's sexuality, if he could find some way to stay out of the spotlight.
"I would say behind closed doors the biggest thing is selfishness. When you've got somebody that wants to put himself ahead of the rest, when he wants his accolades and he wants his awards, when the pronouns become 'my' not 'we.'"
But now that Sam has come out, it's going to be virtually impossible to avoid the conversation. The story has been non-stop on outlets from ESPN to the Today Show. And Thamel says it's not likely to go away any time soon, continuing into the upcoming season if he does join a team.
"This is one of those really unique stories that transcends sports into pop culture. It's kind of like what the Manti Te'o story did. It brings in the Oprah crowd," he says. "It's going to be hard for the media to resist not talking about it."
Huard agrees many teams won't want the headache. "The NFL wants to talk football, not this," he says.
"I'm conflicted about the role of the media here," says O'Neil, a veteran NFL beat reporter who has spent plenty of time in the locker room.
"There's the element of watchdog and making sure he's not discriminated against, and people are going to be looking for things that are salacious," he says.
As for Tobeck, he remains confident Sam will ultimately be accepted if he can help them achieve their ultimate goal and not divide the team. And while there will always be conflicts and factions anytime you put 53 guys in a locker room, he doesn't think Sam's sexuality needs to be that wedge.
"You know the teams that are successful find a way to put those things aside and just concentrate on the task at hand. And the task at hand for any football team in the NFL is to try to win the Super Bowl."