ORLANDO — There are no openly gay players in the NFL but I did find support from eight Pro Bowlers if one ever decides to come out.
After practices last week for the Pro Bowl in Orlando, I asked 11 players for their thoughts on LGBT issues and having a gay teammate. These eight players were LGBT-supportive in their answers:
Alex Mack (Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman), Adam Thielen (Minnesota Vikings wide receiver), Derek Carr (Oakland Raiders quarterback), Jurrell Casey (Tennesee Titans defensive lineman), A.J. Bouye (Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback), Russell Okung (Los Angeles Chargers offensive lineman), Kyle Juszczyk (San Francisco 49ers fullback), and Davante Adams (Green Bay Packers wide receiver).
Mike Daniels (Green Bay Packers defensive lineman) declined to comment when asked about how the NFL can improve its relationship with the LGBT community. LeSean McCoy (Buffalo Bills running back) and Darius Slay (Detroit Lions cornerback) seemed unsure about the reactions in the league following a player coming out, though neither said anything negative.
Here are the relevant answers from the eight players on having a gay teammate:
Alex Mack (Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman) was a teammate of Ryan O’Callaghan, a former offensive tackle who came out this past June, at the University of California.
“I thought it was very powerful,” Mack said when asked about O’Callaghan coming out. “I’m really happy to see that he is happy and I think that it is a positive step forward.”
When asked about whether an openly gay player would be accepted in today’s locker room, Mack’s answer was very supportive.
“I think he’d be widely accepted and he’d fit right in.”
Adam Thielen (Minnesota Vikings wide receiver) spoke about his gay aunt and how it has shaped his mindset of the LGBT community and the possibility of having an openly gay teammate.
“Yeah, my aunt [is LGBT], so I’ve been around it and for me, it’s really none of my business and I love everyone for who they are,” Thielen said. “For me, I’m going to treat people how they treat me. As long as they treat me with respect, I’m going to treat them with respect.”
Derek Carr (Oakland Raiders quarterback) spoke about how he was draft classmates with Michael Sam in 2014 and how that has harbored a positive attitude towards a potential gay teammate.
“I treat everyone the same, I love everybody,” Carr said. “I don’t agree with treating people differently. I treated him [Michael Sam] with the same amount of love and respect as I’d treat anybody.”
Jurrell Casey (Tennessee Titans defensive lineman) has a couple LGBTQ+ family members and friends and spoke on how that would impact a potential gay teammate.
“They are normal human beings just like everyone else in this world and there is no reason to treat them any differently,” Casey said.
A.J. Bouye (Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback) lived in Orlando during his college days at the University of Central Florida and told me he was “devastated” by the news of the Pulse shooting in June 2016. When talking with him, he said he has never had any gay teammates that he knows of, but it is safe to say that Bouye would definitely accept any openly gay teammate.
“At the end of the day, we treat each other like brothers,” Bouye said. “We shouldn’t judge people out of how they live.”
Russell Okung (Los Angeles Chargers offensive lineman) has a brother-in-law that works closely with Church Clarity, a database that collects information on how LGBTQ+ friendly churches are across the nation. His knowledge of the Church Clarity and the struggles LGBTQ+ people face formed a unique perspective on the possibility of having an openly gay teammate.
“It doesn’t necessarily matter who or what you are all about,” Okung said. “People can compete from all sorts of backgrounds, sexualities, and orientations, and people come together for a common goal, and that’s to win.”
Kyle Juszczyk (San Francisco 49ers fullback) spoke very positively about Katie Sowers, the 49ers’ openly lesbian offensive assistant coach.
“Katie’s been phenomenal. She’s someone we’ve been able to lean on. If I ever have a question on a route or something, no hesitation and I can go talk to her. She’s a phenomenal asset to our team.”
As a player coached by an LGBTQ+ coach, Juszczyk believes that more visibility is on the horizon.
“I think it’s just a matter of time before that becomes a common thing,” Juszczyk said.
Davante Adams (Green Bay Packers wide receiver) added his support among the many Pro Bowl players.
“It’s definitely something I support, I don’t discriminate against anybody,” Adams said. You can’t discriminate anyone for their [sexual] preference.”
Along with the eight Pro Bowlers, I also had the opportunity to speak with Greg Scruggs, a former tight end for the Seattle Seahawks, Chicago Bears, and New England Patriots. Scruggs, a 2012 seventh-round pick for Seattle, won two Super Bowls in his five-year career and now works in the NFL office.
Scruggs spoke at the NFL’s Hi-Five Initiative, where openly gay ex-NFL players Wade Davis, Esera Tuaolo and Ryan O’Callaghan conversed with a group of Orlando’s LGBTQ+ youth.
“We have to have the conversation to understand, Scruggs said. “To understand what are the biggest problems, what is the best solution, what is the best way to approach these issues and move forward.
Scruggs also mentioned how the NFL can trend into a more LGBT-friendly league.
“Strength is in the numbers, so if we have entire locker rooms supporting one person, we can make change,” Scruggs said.
The parting quote Scruggs left me resonated with me the most. Strength is in the numbers. Over the Pro Bowl week, the support for the LGBTQ+ community grew in the NFL because of the number of people who pledged their support and came out as a straight ally.
And hopefully these numbers can give strength and change will come.