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ESPN poll of NFL players shows having a gay teammate still a complicated issue

Frank Schwab
Shutdown Corner

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(USA Today Sports Images)

There have been numerous Twitter messages supporting Michael Sam since his announcement that he is gay, but honestly, does that surprise you?

No NFL player (you'd hope) would be dumb enough to criticize Sam in that type of public forum for his sexual preference. They'd become a huge story – ask 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver, whose anti-gay statements before last year's Super Bowl made him a household name for a few days. But how do NFL players feel about it privately? That might be more complicated.

ESPN did a poll of 51 anonymous NFL players about the issue. ESPN chose to use a very positive headline ("86 percent OK with gay teammate") when the answers to all four questions showed a bit more uncertainty, albeit in a fairly small sample size.

Of the 51 players, 44 responded "false" to the statement "A player's sexual orientation matters to you." There's your 86 percent. But to the statement "An openly gay player would be comfortable in an NFL locker room," only 25 responded "true." There were 21 who responded false and five that had no answer. So only 49 percent believe Sam or any other gay player would be comfortable in an NFL locker room. The headline easily could have been "Less than half of players believe gay teammate would be accepted in NFL locker room."

Complicated, right?

The other questions asked by ESPN involved if they would shower with a gay teammate (39 true and 12 false ... which seems odd considering that 44 said sexual preference doesn't matter at all) and that 32 of 51 heard a teammate or coach use a homophobic slur in the past season. The latter should clear up as teams meet with players, and through commissioner Roger Goodell's attempt at a behavior policy for the locker room. And just like nobody is going on Twitter to criticize Michael Sam, you'd think that no teammate of Sam's or another gay player would risk alienating a teammate or gaining the bad publicity that would come with being hostile toward another player based on sexual orientation.

The best guess is whatever team drafts Sam will be one with the leadership to let all the players know that intolerance will not be accepted. And even for those players who disagree with Sam's sexual preference, they are unlikely to risk their reputations and careers to make him uncomfortable in the locker room. But as the ESPN poll shows, there are still a lot of issues that need to be sorted through.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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