Yesterday, Missouri defensive end Michael Sam came out as gay. He did this so he could control his message, so that he could get most of the media attention out of the way, and so that he could focus on just playing football going forward, according to this excellent Outsports story.
The Buccaneers are going to have to establish internally how they want to handle a gay player in their locker room, if they haven't already. They can easily pass on Michael Sam in the draft. The consensus on Sam before the announcement seemed to be that he was a mid-round prospect. While he led the SEC in sacks, he's short, lacks any pass-rush moves and doesn't appear to be able to bend particularly well. He doesn't fit what the Dungy tree generally wants out of its edge rushers -- though he does have some Robert Mathis to his game.
But even if the Bucs don't draft Michael Sam, they'll be confronted with an openly gay player in their locker room at some point. They likely already have several gay players in their locker room, statistically. The Buccaneers will have to figure out how to handle this, as will every other NFL team. Luckily, they can just look at every other industry in the world.
Still, in the media, this matters. Maybe it shouldn't matter, but it does. It also matters for teams in a real sense that doesn't occur in every other industry: there will be more media attention, even if the move to come out now for Sam is one to stifle that attention. This will come with the territory, and you will need a team and a coach with a strong locker room capable of handling that attention. Lovie Smith is a coach who is calm and experienced enough to handle the media attention, and the locker room is probably strong enough for it not to become an issue.
Then there's the Tony Dungy factor in Tampa. Tony Dungy has been an anti-gay marriage activist in the past. It's something we don't ever really talk about, but in his case, his strong Christian faith comes with the conviction that homosexuality is wrong. On the other hand, Dungy has in the past taken the "hate the sin, love the sinner" approach when asked about gay athletes, telling Stampede Blue that Jason Collins "deserves respect and should have opportunities like anyone else".
Maybe Tony Dungy would have no problem coaching a gay player. I'm sure he coached a lot of players who did things he didn't agree with, like visit certain places on Dale Mabry, and they still played for him. Which is the attitude any employer should have toward his employees: what you do in your personal time is not the employer's business as long as it doesn't affect the employee's performance. Regardless of team leadership's personal conviction, they can't let those beliefs affect their handling of any personal issue.
Some players and coaches in the Buccaneers' building hold anti-gay convictions, as is the case in any other workplace with several hundred employees. Similarly, some players, coaches or other employees are gay, openly or not. Michael Sam won't be the first gay player in the NFL: he'll simply be the first openly gay player. None of this will matter for Sam or any other gay player if team leadership handles this issue responsibly -- like any other workplace would (or at least, should).
Whether or not Sam is drafted by the Buccaneers, they'll have to figure out how they'll handle an openly gay player in the NFL. Michael Sam won't be the last player to come out, and he probably wouldn't be the first gay player in the Bucs' locker room, either. At some point, they'll be confronted with an openly gay player-- and they need to know how they want to handle that.
While we probably won't see any negative comments on Sam from any Buccaneer (not with their name attached, anyway), we can say that at least one Buccaneer supports Michael Sam.
Good for Michael Sam. Takes courage for where he is in his career and where we are as a league. I applaud him.— Tom Crabtree (@itsCrab) February 10, 2014