Michael Sam’s place in the NFL -- when and if he is drafted in May -- has sparked debate since Sam, a former Missouri defensive end, came out as an openly gay player on Feb. 9.
"His job is a linebacker," Newton said in a joint interview with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick on Sunday. "Colin said it best: We don't worry about each other outside of football. Of course we have, 'Are you OK? Is there anything I can help you with?' But the main focus is, we're football players. We're here in this organization for one reason and one reason only. And if you're able to help us attain that winning success, your personal life is your personal life."
Much of the consternation about the effect of Sam’s sexual orientation in an NFL locker room began the night he came out publicly on ESPN and in a New York Times article. Sports Illustrated ran an article citing several anonymous NFL personnel saying Sam wouldn’t be accepted in an NFL locker room.
"I don't think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet," said an NFL player personnel assistant. "In the coming decade or two, it's going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it's still a man's-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It'd chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room."
"There are guys in locker rooms that maturity-wise cannot handle it or deal with the thought of that," the assistant coach said. "There's nothing more sensitive than the heartbeat of the locker room. If you knowingly bring someone in there with that sexual orientation, how are the other guys going to deal with it? It's going to be a big distraction. That's the reality. It shouldn't be, but it will be."
Opinions from players varied. While some praised Sam’s courage some were baffled by his need to come out.
But Newton and Kaepernick, two of the young stars of the NFL, took a more professional approach and compared their locker room to any other working environment.
"I think when he steps into that locker room everyone's going to know that he's there to help us win games and that's why you're in the NFL -- to help us win games," Kaepernick said. "No one cares if you're black, white, straight, gay, Christian, Jewish, whatever it may be. When you step on that field you're a member of, in my case the 49ers, or the Carolina Panthers, that's your job. That's your occupation."
We’ll see if other players and other locker rooms feel the same way.
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