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Denard Robinson, Giovani Bernard, other NFL rookies talk about having a gay teammate

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Aaron Dobson, Dion Jordan, Stepfan Taylor and others talk about "respect" for a potential gay teammate and offer thoughts on Jason Collins coming out publicly

Denard Robinson works out as a wide receiver at the NFL combine
Denard Robinson works out as a wide receiver at the NFL combine
USA TODAY Sports

Last year's NFLPA Rookie Premiere event in Los Angeles brought us some of the first thoughts from a group of NFL rookies and veterans about having gay teammates and other LGBT issues. With insights from Trent Richardson and Robert Griffin III to Ahman Green and Eddie George, the interviews we conducted there last year gave one of the first glimpses into how NFL players really think on our issues.

This year's attendees at the event showed us much of the same acceptance.

At the University of Michigan, quarterback Denard Robinson was an enthusiastic figure with big hair and a big smile. Despite changing positions, leagues and teams, as the new wide receiver for the Jacksonville Jaguars he hasn't lost the hair or the smile.

Catching up with him at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere last month, it's clear he hasn't lost the enthusiasm either. In addition to bonding over a love for Zingerman's, Robinson seemed glad to talk when I asked him about Jason Collins coming out several weeks ago.

"I think it was a good deal," Robinson said. "It was something he needed to do and face the truth. If he's gay, he's gay. I feel like, be yourself. Be true to yourself, and don't be scared to be true to yourself."

There was a particularly interesting moment when I asked him whether he had a gay person in his family or close circle of friends. Instead of a simple "no," he shared something more.

"I'm sorry to say, but no," Robinson said. He actually regretted not having gay people in his life. It was telling of his true acceptance of LGBT people.

New Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovanni Bernard from the University of North Carolina felt the same way about Collins' announcement.

"That's good for America, that's good for our society to kind of get that out there," Bernard said. "Nowadays, people have a certain stigma of their sexuality, but I think they shouldn't be considered different at all."

A couple other rookies I spoke to also didn't have a problem with Collins' coming out, they simply didn't understand why everyone felt the need to make it a cause célèbre.

"Not to offend anyone, but I don't think it's a big deal," said New Orleans Saints wide receiver Kenny Stills. I don't have a problem with it at all, I just feel like, as an American society so much attention is given to that, and it shouldn't be. Okay, he's gay, he likes what he likes. I'm straight, I like what I like. We just keep on moving on. It's a sensitive subject to talk about, but I feel like everybody likes what they like and that's how it is."

Stills said he grew up in San Diego around gay people all his life. In fact, he has an uncle who's gay and is a drag queen.

"I'm not really close with him, but I've met him before when I was younger," Stills said. "I'm from San Diego. I've seen it all. It doesn't bother me. Everybody is entitled to like what they want. I just don't understand all the media attention for it. I don't think it's necessary. Just do what you do."

At the University of Oklahoma, Stills caught passes from quarterback Landry Jones, who previously shared his inclusive thoughts with us on gay athletes.

New Buffalo Bills safety Robert Woods, from USC, also isn't sure why anyone has to announce their sexual orientation.

"Publicly, does it really matter?" Woods asked. "Everybody has their own sexuality. Why's it such a big deal about his story? It is what it is."

Yet Woods, like everyone we talked to at the Rookie Premiere, said the sexual orientation of his teammates simply wasn't a concern to him.

"That's his own private life," he said. "What he does on the field is what matters to me. If he's a great player making plays for the team, then it doesn't really matter. Our profession is playing the game of football. And as long as he's doing his job, then there should be no problem."

Former Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor, now with the Arizona Cardinals, agreed.

"It wouldn't be a problem," he said. "That's his business. We're all out there playing football, and if he's out there to win games, everyone's out there together. People respect other people's values and decisions. It's a respect thing. You don't have to agree with anything or disagree with things, you just respect that you're here to play football."

That "respect" theme rang through many players' answers.

Dion Jordan, the Miami Dolphins' new defensive end who reminded me of Jevon Kearse: "I love all my guys, all my teammates. I have a certain amount of respect and trust for everybody I line up there with. Whatever that guy has going on in his personal life, that's up to him. It's my job to make sure he's ready to perform and he is performing on the football field."

Tennessee Titans rookie wide receiver Justin Hunter: "I have nothing to do but respect it and treat them the same as I have always treated them."

Stills eluded to suspecting past teammates may be gay while saying he would have no problem if a teammate came out to him.

"There's guys in the locker room and we know which ones are a little bit... different," Stills said. "It doesn't bother anyone. You have to really have some hate, or something has had to have happened to you, to feel a certain way about people who like men or women or whatever."

New England Patriots rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson, who said he's drawn comparisons to Randy Moss all his life, echoed the sentiments about a teammate coming out.

"It doesn't bother me," he said. "That's his choice, what he decides to do. It's not affecting me. I'm not like that, but I'm not going to judge him any different."

Previously, we reported on Houston Texans wide receiver Deandre Hopkins talking about his lesbian sister and his support for same-sex marriage.

The thoughts these men shared continued the trend of NFL players and professional athletes offering open arms for a gay teammate.