A week before NFL draft prospect Michael Sam said he was gay, Saints player Jonathan Vilma expressed his fear of showering near a teammate who was homosexual.
A day after Sam came out on Sunday, another current Saints players reacted in the complete opposite manner, saying, “I (can’t) care less about someone’s sexual preference. My check (is) still (going to) look the same.”
The Saints player who said another player’s sexual orientation wouldn’t affect him spoke on the condition of anonymity because he hadn’t been given permission by the team to talk to the media about the subject.
Vilma’s stance and that of his teammate’s hint at the range of emotions that might be felt by members of the Saints in the wake of the announcement by Sam. Certainly, there have been gay players in the NFL, and some of them have come out after their careers ended; but Sam might become the first-ever gay player to come out and then make the NFL.
The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Sam, an All-American from Missouri, was the Southeastern Conference’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year after leading the league in sacks (11.5) and tackles behind the line of scrimmage (19). He participated in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., in January and is planning to attend the scouting combine in Indianapolis, and the website NFL Draft Scout projected him as a third- to fourth-round pick as of Monday morning.
Opinion varied Monday on whether Sam’s draft stock would be affected.
For example, many current players went on Twitter and expressed their support for Sam, among them former Saints backup quarterback Chase Daniel, a Missouri alum now with the Kansas City Chiefs; Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams; and Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith, the MVP of Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2.
“I could care less about a man’s sexual preference!” Williams tweeted. “I care about winning games and being respectful in the locker room!”
Added Smith: “There is no room for bigotry in American sports. It takes courage to change the culture.”
All of them are of a similar mind to the current Saint who said a player’s orientation wouldn’t matter to him.
Yet those sentiments aren’t unanimous. Sports Illustrated interviewed multiple unnamed NFL general managers, coaches, and scouts, and many of them predicted Sam’s path to the pros will be daunting, lonely and could see him either drop in the draft or not be chosen altogether because the league allegedly isn’t ready for an openly gay player.
Those folks would seem to be in agreement with Vilma, who told the NFL Network in an interview that aired on Feb. 2:
“I think (an openly gay teammate) would not be accepted as much as we think he would be accepted. I don’t want people to just naturally assume, oh, we’re all homophobic. That’s really not the case. Imagine if he’s the guy next to me, and you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me, how am I supposed to respond?”
It should be noted that Vilma may have played his last game with the Saints in 2013. He spent the first seven games of the campaign on short-term injured reserve while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, and he played in just one contest before landing on season-ending IR.
Vilma, 31, was in the final season of his contract with New Orleans — given his age and his history of knee problems, many don’t expect him to get another deal with the Saints.
Barring a catastrophe, the Saint who said he didn’t care about a teammate’s sexual orientation will be back in New Orleans for 2014.
Sam tweeted in part on Monday: “Many thanks to the NFL players & legends who vocally supported me.”