On the surface, the Pittsburgh Steelers would seem like one of the more ideal teams among the league’s 32 franchises to welcome a gay player.
They are the founding fathers after all of the NFL’s ‘Rooney Rule’ which states a team must interview a minority candidate as part of its head coaching search.
This topic has emerged as former University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam has announced publicly for the first time that he is gay.
Sam is not going to be ‘just another player’ though because he was the SEC’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.
Despite being a bit undersized, it’s expected that he’ll still be drafted somewhere between the fourth and sixth rounds. With his announcement however, there will be questions as to just how far he may fall and will he be drafted at all? Teams will be very cautious in vetting Sam at the NFL Combine and leading up to the draft.
Bringing an openly gay player into an NFL locker room is not an easy thing to do. Just look at the atmosphere that was in Miami between Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin and that didn’t have to do with either player being gay.
As far as the Pittsburgh Steelers bringing in a gay player I think there are two ways to look at this. For the team itself I don’t believe it would be a major issue in the locker room. This is not to dismiss this as ‘there won’t be issues’ because everyone has their own personal beliefs, but by and large players want to win.
This means they’ll do anything and everything to reach that goal of being football’s best even if it means accepting a person whose sexual orientation they may not agree.
The other side of the coin is the fan base. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that there are many Steelers’ fans who do not accept homosexuality and they can be quite demonstrative of this.
If you look at comments from fans about Mike Tomlin, you’ll know that there is also a large pocket of Steelers’ fans that aren’t exactly tolerant of African-Americans based on their hate-filled words. This didn’t start with Tomlin though. It goes back to the days of Joe Gilliam and Kordell Stewart as well.
Personally, I wish Michael Sam well. I hope that he is allowed to just be a player and a member of a team rather than anything else.
So if you ask me if a gay player would be welcomed by the Pittsburgh Steelers I would say by and large “yes.” As for the fan base? That becomes a different story.
Marc Uhlmann writes for and co-owns www.steelcityblitz.com. Follow him on Twitter @steeldad and follow the website at @SCBlitz. He can be heard Mondays on Trib-Live Radio at 730pm ET talking Steelers and is a blogger for ESPN 970 in Pittsburgh.