ST. LOUIS – To guard against another bullying scandal, NFL teams are holding sensitivity sessions during training camp.
Such guidance could be valuable for the St. Louis Rams, even if by all accounts they have welcomed Michael Sam into the fold.
“I don’t think it ever hurts to just talk about general respect for other people and other players,” middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “There’s not a problem in our locker room, however it doesn’t hurt to go around and remind people about it.”
The worst hazing Rams rookies face is toting veteran players’ helmets off the practice field. Coach Jeff Fisher says no one is made to sing at dinner time.
“Yeah, we have a philosophy about that,” Fisher said. “The rookies are here to help us win and if you treat a rookie like a rookie he’s going to inevitably do something stupid and act like a rookie.”
As far as Sam goes, there has been no visible dissent in camp whatsoever regarding the NFL’s first openly gay player.
Nowadays, players asked how Sam is fitting in might answer with a question themselves: Why is this still a big deal? They are liable to respond with a shrug when asked what it’s like having an openly gay teammate in the locker room, or whether it’s an issue having Sam showering next to them.
Move on already, they say.
“The NFL is a huge melting pot, people from different walks of life, backgrounds, family backgrounds, socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities, all that stuff,” defensive end Chris Long said.
The bottom line is it’s “pretty easy” for players to adjust, Long said.
Sam appeared confident in a Tuesday interview, even cocky about his chances, saying he thought questions about his sexual orientation would cease “when I lay somebody out that first game.” He was brash enough to deconstruct a few questions and wait to have them rephrased, but also joked some, too, saying he lost 13 pounds preparing for special teams duty “because I want to run fast, don’t you?”
Sam came out as gay before his senior year at Missouri and judging by the results, it was no distraction at all. The Tigers made a seven-win improvement and tied the school record with 12 wins. Sam was co-SEC defensive player of the year.