Editorial note: This article previously claimed Tomlin had his team avoid the field for a National Anthem. That was incorrect. It was the players who took a majority-wins vote. You can find more information here. The article has been adjusted, and we regret the error.
Each week we’ll be taking a look at the NFL teams involved in the Sunday Night Football game and track their record — team, coaches and players — on LGBT issues.
This week’s Sunday Night Football game pits two of the NFL’s most successful franchises: the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Between them they have won 10 of the 51 Super Bowls. The head coaches of this Sunday’s matchup have also both won a Super Bowl. For LGBT fans, one of them has shared his thoughts on gay NFL athletes while the other has been quiet on the issue.
Shortly after Michael Sam came out publicly, head coaches and general managers across the NFL were asked about having a gay athlete on their team. Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy was on-point.
"I think you definitely have to feel he’s a courageous young man, but my understanding is that he’s a talented player," McCarthy said the day after Sam’s announcement in 2014. "We’ve always from day one talked about our program and about our culture. Ted [Thompson] and them are going through the draft process right now and, at the end of the day, it comes down to good football players.
"Any player that can come here and be a good teammate, follow the rules of our program which is, one, be respectful and produce on the football field, we’ve got room for that guy."
Packers GM Ted Thompson echoed those sentiments a couple weeks later.
“I think there's a lot to do about much of nothing,” Thompson said. “If someone can help us win games and be a good citizen, we’re fine with him."
The observations by the two men aren’t league-shattering as they reflect the comments of many people across sports. Still, it’s good to see from these NFL leaders.
Again, nice to hear.
Yet Steelers coach Mike Tomlin hasn’t seemed as willing to talk about gay athletes. I could find no reference to Tomlin addressing the potential drafting of Michael Sam in 2014, which is odd since you can find a comment by just about every other head coach at the time.
On one occasion after Michael Sam came out, I had access to Tomlin and asked him a general question about gay athletes. He listened, then turned his head and without answering moved on to the next question.
Tomlin did indirectly answer a question posed to him, at the NFL League meeting in Orlando in March of 2014, about addressing gay slurs and racial slurs in the locker room.
“I think more than anything, it’s larger than that,” Tomlin said. “I think we’re all focused on a workplace environment and professionalism. It’s something that’s going to never wane. I think it’s something that always needs to be a topic of discussion as we move forward and build our teams for 2014.”
Still, it’s odd that Tomlin never discussed Sam or having a gay athlete on his team. Ben Roethlisberger talked about it. But not Tomlin. Of course, if we missed Tomlin talking about Sam or gay athletes, please do let us know. We just can’t find it.
What we can find is Tomlin’s admiration for Tony Dungy, the anti-gay religious zealot (and Sunday Night Football analyst) who has raised tens of thousands of dollars to fight against same-sex marriage and who said he wouldn’t want Michael Sam on his team (though he would have no problem with a wife-beater or a dog murderer).
The Steelers coach has carefully picked and chosen what issues take center stage for him and his team. He has also not been shy about professing his strong position as a Christian, and players have said the Steelers are being led by “a man of God.” He has also waded into politics, hosting a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton last year. Earlier this year we got a glimpse at Tomlin’s use of language behind the scenes, which was completely different from the persona he puts forth publicly.
Why has he been fine with talking about his Christian beliefs and support for Hillary, but not his acceptance of a gay athlete? Next time we see him at an NFL event, we’ll ask him.
Outsports Pick: Pittsburgh 31, Green Bay 16. Unless you’re Bill Belichick, you can’t simply replace a potential Hall of Fame quarterback with a rookie and win games. Mike McCarty is good, but he’s not Bill. The Steelers’ passing game should have its way with a defense that’s allowed three 100-yard receivers in the last four games. Meet Antonio Brown.