Ryan Clark on Michael Sam: What can you do and say around him?
Steelers safety Ryan Clark wonders how Michael Sam's future NFL teammates should behave around him.
Former Missouri linebacker Michael Sam is gay. We know this because he announced it Sunday night ahead of the the combine later this month.
In general, the reaction from the media and players has been mostly positive. There is still the issue of whether Sam has the physical tools to make it in the NFL, which, thankfully, remains separate from his sexual preference.
On Monday, Steelers safety Ryan Clark, appearing on SportsCenter, wondered how Sam's future teammates should behave around him. It may sound like a naive question but Clark explains that this isn't just about Sam being gay but about the culture of NFL locker rooms for, well, everybody -- straight, gay, skinny, fat, handsome, ugly.
“You want to know how you can behave around this person,” Clark said, via PFT. “Anyone who has been in a football locker room knows that there’s a lot of jokes, a lot of ribbing. We’ll talk about anything. If a guy is fat. If a guy is ugly. If a guy’s significant other is not attractive. These are things you josh each other about and you talk with each other about. In what ways can you talk to him? In what ways can you involve him in your conversations? What are the things you can do and say around him that won’t make him uncomfortable? That won’t make him feel that he’s being ostracized? Or that won’t make him feel like he’s being harassed or quote, unquote bullied?”
The easy solution is to say nothing. The reality is that locker rooms are like comedy clubs in that virtually nothing is off limits. Of course, the quickest way for Sam -- or any player -- to quiet his critics is to show up and prove he belongs.
Last offseason, Manti Te'o and his fake dead girlfriend became one of the biggest stories of the offseason. When the Chargers drafted him in the second round, San Diego linebacker Donald Butler made it clear that if Te'o worked hard he would be fine.
"We don't know how he's going to be in the NFL," Butler said last May. "I hope he comes in and he's a superstar. Hopefully we can create something that will carry us for the next four, five, six years. I'm looking forward to him coming in and being excited to work. From what I've heard, that is what he likes to do: humble guy who wants to come in and just work and really hone his craft."
Butler also conceded that Te'o would likely hear it from teammates because that's how locker rooms work.
"I'm sure he'll get some jabs," the linebacker said. "But that comes with being a rookie. He might get a little more because of his situation, but I'm sure he's man enough to handle it and really grow from it. I don't think it's going to be anything over-the-top. It'll be your normal rookie jokes."
And this isn't to equate Te'o's pretend girlfriend with Sam's sexuality, but to point out that no one -- especially rookies -- is immune to what goes on in NFL locker rooms.
But Clark thinks Sam will face bigger obstacles during games.
“I think it will be something that’s talked about on the field," Clark said. " I’ve heard things on the field that even I thought were questionable and even I thought went a little far. But it’s what some guys do. Guys read your bio, and speak of guys’ wives. We had the Steve Smith-Janoris Jenkins situation during the season. And so those things happen. Guys don’t pull punches when it comes to players on other teams.”
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