The Green Bay Packers’ preference is finding good players.
That means Michael Sam’s sexual preference makes no difference, according to coach Mike McCarthy.
“I think you definitely have to feel he’s a courageous young man, but my understanding is that he’s a talented player,” McCarthy said on Monday before his new coaching staff was introduced to reporters. “We’ve always from Day 1 talked about our program and about our culture. Ted (Thompson) and (the scouts) are going through the draft process right now and, at the end of the day, it comes down to good football players. Any player that can come here and be a good teammate, follow the rules of our program, be respectful and produce on the football field, we’ve got room for that guy.”
Missouri's All-America defensive end came out to the entire country Sunday night and could become the first openly gay player in America's most popular sport.
"I just want to go to the team who drafts me," Sam told ESPN in an interview that aired Sunday, "because that team knows about me, knows that I'm gay, and also knows that I work hard. That's the team I want to go to."
Sam, who recorded 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for losses en route to being named the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year. He projects to an outside linebacker in the Packers’ 3-4 scheme.
“At the end of the day, for a position coach, it’s all about, ‘Can he play football?’ It’s all about football,” Packers linebackers coach Winston Moss said. “Around here, it’s all about respect. At the end of the day, if he’s a good football player, he’s a good teammate, then everything else will take care of itself.”
Whether that belief is anywhere close to universal around the league remains to be seen.
Nobody has ever done this before.
In interviews with ESPN, The New York Times and Outsports, Sam said publicly for the first time that he was gay. He said he came out to his teammates and coaches at Missouri in August.
Sam, who participated in the Senior Bowl in January and will participate in the Scouting Combine later this month in Indianapolis, is projected to be a mid-round draft pick in May.
"Hopefully, it will be the same like my locker room," he told ESPN. "It's a workplace. If you've ever been in a Division I or pro locker room, it's a business place. You want to act professional."
Sam received much public support Sunday night from people throughout the world of sports.
"I can't wait to cheer for whatever lucky team that drafts @MikeSamFootball. Personally I hope he goes to my favorite team. The @Colts" tweeted Jason Collins, the pro basketball player who said publicly last season that he is gay.
There also were words of caution.
Offensive lineman Frank Garcia, who played in the NFL from 1995 through 2003 with the Panthers, Rams and Cardinals, said Sam could face "huge challenges" in the league.
Garcia was teammates and good friends with defensive lineman Esera Tuaolo, the former Packers draft pick who announced he was gay on HBO's Real Sports in 2002 — three years after he left the NFL.
Garcia said although he and Tuaolo regularly hung out as teammates in Carolina in 1999, Tuaolo never once let on that he was gay.
"I think a lot of guys in the NFL are going to say they will accept it, but there are a lot of guys who won't," said Garcia, now a sports radio show host with WFNZ-AM in Charlotte. "The reality is Michael Sam is going to open himself up to a lot of criticism and a lot of challenges. Those are challenges most gay people have to go through, but when you are dealing with alpha males and some meatheads in an NFL locker room it's amplified. And there are some guys who have strong religious beliefs, too, so he's going to be judged. He's going to face some things that are going to be very difficult to overcome."
There have been a few NFL players who have come out after their playing days, including Kwame Harris and Dave Kopay.
Collins, a 35-year-old backup center, came out after last season when he was a free agent and was not signed this season. MLS star and U.S. national team player Robbie Rogers also came out a year ago.
"His courage will inspire millions to live their truth," Rogers tweeted about Sam.
Division III Willamette kicker Conner Mertens, a redshirt freshman, said last month he was bisexual.
"We admire Michael Sam's honesty and courage," the NFL said in statement. "Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014."
Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams tweeted: "I could care less about a man's sexual preference! i care about winning games and being respectful in the locker room!"
Those were words echoed by Alex Van Pelt, the Packers’ running backs coach the previous two seasons and the new quarterbacks coach.
“That's very courageous on his part, there's no question,” Van Pelt said. “If anybody can come in and help us win games and be successful – black, white, yellow, straight, gay – I don't think it matters. As long as you're a good person and you're respectful in the locker room to each other, then you can help us win on Sundays and are welcome."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.