University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam publicly revealed that he is gay on Sunday in interviews with The New York Times and ESPN. If he is selected in this May’s NFL Draft, he would become the first openly gay player in league history. Would he be accepted by fans, coaches, and teammates? We asked Peter Roby, Northeastern’s athletic director and a former college basketball coach.
NFLPA president Domonique Foxworth thinks that Michael Sam will galvanize whichever team drafts him this spring, saying, “That type of stuff is what makes you build up around a guy.” On the other hand, an NFL player personnel assistant told Sports Illustrated, “I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet. It would chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.” In your opinion, is the NFL ready to accept an openly gay player?
There is no way of predicting if the NFL is ready for an openly gay player. Given the hyper masculine culture that exists in the league I am hesitant to say that the league’s players will embrace Michael Sam. Like any other milestone, someone has to be first and with each successive gay player that enters the league it will get better over time.
You were the head coach of Harvard University’s basketball team for six seasons. If you were the coach of Sam’s NFL team, what would you do to ensure a healthy locker room atmosphere?
I would preach the consistent message of a team being like a family and the need for each member to feel valued, respected, and important. That core value must exist for any team to be successful regardless of sexual orientation, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, etc. No team or organization will be successful if individuals try to make the self feel important or dominant at the expense of another. The defense must appreciate the role of the offense. The wide receivers must appreciate the role of the offensive line. The staring five in basketball must appreciate the role of the players coming off the bench. If you simply make this about sexual orientation, you miss the opportunity to teach a much more important lesson about team dynamics and success.
In 2012, Northeastern Athletics partnered with You Can Play, an organization dedicated to ensuring equality, respect, and safety for all athletes, regardless of sexual orientation. Since then, what has Northeastern Athletics done to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender athletes?
Every day we try to live our values of the appreciation of difference. It is never enough to simply make a video, or put words on walls. Those things won’t matter if the way we treat each other every day is not consistent with whatever your espoused values are. We hold each other accountable for our actions toward one another. We try to promote a culture of trust and respect. You don’t do that with just one action or event. You do that daily, weekly, monthly. You hire people who share your commitment to those values. You support staff and students who are openly gay by treating them respectfully and fairly.