UB football players discuss Sam's announcement
On Feb. 9, Missouri linebacker Michael Sam came out as gay on national television. Two UB football players told The Spectrum they were not surprised and believe their locker room would be accepting of a gay player. Associated Press Photo
On Sunday, SEC Defensive Player of the Year and Missouri defensive end Michael Sam announced to the world that he is a gay man. Sam could become the first openly gay player in the NFL; he is projected to be a third- or fourth-round pick in May's NFL Draft.
Sophomore quarterback Joe Licata and junior linebacker Lee Skinner first heard the news on Twitter.
"I wasn't surprised at all," Licata said. "I figured eventually someone would have the courage to come out and say they were gay."
National media outlets have debated how this announcement could affect Sam's draft stock and professional career. Especially after the Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin bullying scandal, the culture and environment inside a football locker room has emerged under the national microscope.
Licata believes a player's sexual orientation shouldn't affect a locker room and feels that the Bulls would be accepting of a player like Sam.
"I don't think there would be any changes," Licata said. "In our locker room, we are very close, a very tight-knit group of guys, and whatever you do off the field doesn't matter as long as you can produce on the field."
Sam came out to his teammates in August. He was conflicted about coming out to the world as well, but he ultimately decided not to until now because he didn't want the story to become a distraction for his team. Missouri went 12-2 this season and defeated Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl, 41-31.
"I'm sure they appreciated his honesty, but I don't think it had any effect on the team honestly," Licata said. "I'm sure they just took it as he told him and they just moved on."
Skinner said the situation comes down to respect.
"Sam is a player and a person and it goes to show the kind of man he is to stand up and say something like that, that maybe not everybody's comfortable with," Skinner said. "It's going to come to a point where they are going to have to be comfortable with it."
Both Licata and Skinner said we are living in a progressive time, and it would be naive to characterize all football players in the same way.
"There are 105 guys on our team and every one of them is different," Skinner said.
Licata said leadership is the most important quality for a team; leaders help hold a team together when there are potential distractions. Both he and Skinner, leaders of UB's football team, said they would try to help the player in whatever way he felt comfortable if a similar situation were to present itself at UB.
"I'm not sure how I would handle that, honestly," Licata said when asked what he'd do if a UB player came out to him in private. "I would just encourage them to do what they felt was right. If they wanted me to keep it a secret, I would keep it a secret. If they wanted me to help inform the team, I would help them inform the team."
He's aware that there are some "ignorant" people in football communities around the country who may not be accepting, but he believes most locker rooms would accept that athlete.
"It's something that's a part of us," Skinner said. "It's a part of our generation. I think it's just something that has to be accepted. He's not a criminal. He hasn't done anything wrong."
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