INDIANAPOLIS – The NFL coach who is known for stirring things up was asked about the hottest topic headed into the draft.
How would Rex Ryan and his Jets accept Michael Sam, the Missouri defensive end who has announced he is gay? The answer was ... well, kind of mundane.
It's just not that big of a deal.
"I think he'd be welcomed, it would be no different than any other player we have," Ryan said at the scouting combine on Thursday. "You're going to have 53 different players. What they look like, height, weight, married, single ... any of these. Everybody is different. The main thing we always talk about is respect in our locker room. Even though we're different, everybody is different, it's a respect thing. If a young man is a good football player and a good teammate, that's all we ask of him. He'd fit in just like the rest of our guys."
That has been the overwhelming message since Sam announced he was gay, including at this week's combine. Publicly, every NFL team that has weighed in on the issue has said pretty much the same thing: It doesn't matter what a player's sexual orientation is.
"The bottom line is we're going to evaluate Michael as a football player," Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said on Thursday. "If he's the highest player on our board, we'll draft him."
Of course, even if a team wasn't comfortable drafting Sam because he's gay, there's practically no chance of anyone saying that publicly. We'll see if Sam's announcement really affects his draft stock, but even that is murky because there are legitimate on-field questions about him. Even though Sam was the SEC's defensive player of the year he is an NFL tweener, an undersized defensive end who did not look very comfortable playing outside linebacker at the Senior Bowl. A team like the Jets, with a well-respected coach among the players, would seem to be a good fit for Sam as far as the locker room goes. But he wouldn't have any clear position on the Jets defense. That's the case with many teams.
If Sam does slip in the draft, it'll be a hot-button issue. It will just be impossible to figure out if he slips because the teams that are proclaiming they have no problem with him being gay feel differently behind closed doors, or if there's a legitimate football reason for it.
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