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LGBT angles for the NFL playoffs

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Statements of support for having an openly gay teammate are common.

NFL: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski would be cool with a gay teammate.
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

With the NFL playoffs getting underway, here are the LGBT angles for all 12 teams.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but deals mostly with players and coaches on the particular team’s current roster. It is modeled after our series #LGBTSNF, which focused on the teams playing in that week’s Sunday Night Football game.

AFC

Buffalo Bills (6 seed, eliminated). Running back Mike Tolbert would accept an openly gay teammate, saying: “Your sexuality is all your personal preference. Me, personally, as a football player, I don’t care who you are as long as you can play football.”

While Tolbert would be supportive, I am not sure the same can be said for Bills offensive lineman Richie Incognito, who did some really bad homophobic stuff when he was with the Dolphins.

An 2014 NFL investigation into the bullying of Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin found Incognito one of the main culprits. The official report included this disturbing passage:

Player A was a Dolphins offensive lineman. Like Martin, he is quiet and unassuming. During his time with the team, Incognito, [John] Jerry and [Mike] Pouncey frequently taunted Player A with homophobic insults. He often was called a “fag” or a “faggot” in a demeaning tone. Incognito reportedly accused him of “sucking dick” and “pissing while sitting down” and asked him “where’s your boyfriend?” Incognito acknowledged that Player A, although not actually believed to be gay, was spoken to in this manner repeatedly and persistently — he got it “every day from everybody, high frequency.”

At the same time, Incognito tweeted his support for Michael Sam, when the defensive lineman came out as gay prior to the 2014 draft. I am not sure if that sentiment was genuine or damage control. Since signing with the Bills in 2015, Incognito has been, in the words of one Bills beat writer, “a model citizen.”

Tennessee Titans (5). The Titans have three players who are good on gay issues. Receiver Eric Decker was named the world’s hottest athlete by Outsports readers (“King of the Hardwood”) and he thanked them for his win on Twitter. In 2013, he again won the contest and his now-wife, singer and actress Jessie James, tweeted out the voting.

Of having a gay teammate, running back DeMarco Murray (who is injured) said: “I’d treat them the same. It wouldn’t matter.”

Added tight end Delanie Walker: “It probably wouldn’t affect me, but other guys might feel different. That’s him. If that’s what he’s into, that’s what he’s into. I can’t judge a person for how he feels. Things happen. He was a great player. I don’t see him no differently.”

Los Angeles Rams v Tennessee Titans
Eric Decker
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Kansas City Chiefs (4, eliminated): The most-read story of the year on Outsports was the coming out of former Chiefs and Patriots offensive lineman Ryan O’Callaghan. We named O’Callaghan our person of the year for 2017.

If a gay Chief came out today, tight Travis Kelce would have his back: “Anybody in this world [can play]. I’m comfortable with who I am and I expect everyone to be comfortable with who they are. I respect people for their views and opinions.”

Jacksonville Jaguars (3): I can’t find anything LGBT-related about the current players on the team, but former defensive lineman Esera Tuaolo played for the Jags in 1997. Tuaolo is one of only of 11 gay men who played in the NFL.

Pittsburgh Steelers (2): Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is another player who said he would welcome a gay teammate. An article about this topic in 2014 noted:

“When asked if he thought he had perhaps had gay teammates before, Roethlisberger said he’s read the articles which indicate statistically he probably has, but if so was unaware of it. He reiterated his assertion — the only thing which really matters is how his teammates perform on the field.”

Other Steelers on the subject of the gay teammate:

Backup QB Landry Jones: “It doesn’t matter if you’re gay or if you’re straight. If you can play the game of football, you’re going to be on a team and you’re going to have a job. Just like if you’re in a regular business setting. If you can do your job well, you can do your job. You can get paid and earn a living and provide for your family, whatever your family looks like.”

Receiver Justin Hunter: “I have nothing to do but respect it and treat them the same as I have always treated them,” he said about a gay teammate.

New England Patriots (1): The Patriots organization has long been very LGBT-supportive. The team’s owner Robert Kraft and his late wife Myra were early supporters of same-sex marriage. In 2015 the Patriots were the only NFL team to sign an amicus brief supporting marriage equality being decided by the Supreme Court.

In 2017, the Patriots gave $25,000 to support Gay Bowl XVII in Boston. Kraft attended the closing party to thank the attendees and give a short speech.

In 2012, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski told Outsports he would “cool” with a gay teammate.

NFC

Atlanta Falcons (6 seed): Esera Tuaolo also played for the Falcons and was part of the 1998 team that made it to the Super Bowl.

Assistant General Manager Scott Pioli was instrumental in the coming out of Ryan O’Callaghan when both men with the Chiefs. Pioli was also a mentor for Katie Sowers, then a scouting intern for the Falcons last season. This year, Sowers was an assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers and came out openly as gay in August.

Carolina Panthers (5, eliminated): Quarterback Cam Newton and tight end Greg Olsen have a great on-field connection and both say they would welcome an openly gay player on the Panthers.

Newton: “If you’re helping us attain that winning success, your personal life is your personal life.”

Olsen: “I think it’d be great. It’s a very open and honest group of guys. The locker room is a very understanding group and I think he would be treated no differently than everybody else.”

Their comments were echoed by linebacker Thomas Davis: “[They would] still be my teammate, still be one of the guys working hard in this league with me.”

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints (4): Coach Sean Payton would have no problem coaching a gay player. “We’re in a league that is striving to win,” Payton said in discussing Michael Sam. “I think the locker room welcomes all that can help them do that.

”This history of our league has had players of every state, every color, every creed. I think the same thing would apply [with Michael Sam].”

Los Angeles Rams (3, eliminated): The Rams’ LGBT angle is obvious since they drafted Sam in 2014 when the franchise was in St. Louis. Sam was welcomed by his teammates such as punter Johnny Hecker, who tweeted: “Proud to welcome @MikeSamFootball to the Rams. Glad we could add a great football player that knows how to put it all on the line. #GoRams.”

By all accounts, the Rams gave Sam a fair shot at making the team, before cutting him on the last day of the preseason.

Rams linebacker Connor Barwin was one of the first NFL players to openly endorse same-sex marriage in 2012. Barwin contacted Outsports to talk about marriage equality and his relationship with his gay brother Joe.

“Times are really changing and people are understanding that there’s really no reason to have an issue with [gay marriage]. Embrace who people love and how they love,” Barwin said.

Minnesota Vikings (2): All-Pro safety Harrison Smith on having a gay teammate: “If you can do your job and you can play, that’s all that matters.”

On the LGBT front, the Vikings are best known for former punter Chris Kluwe’s passionate support for same-sex marriage. When Kluwe was cut, he accused the Vikings of punishing him for his LGBT activism and said that his position coach, Mike Priefer, was a homophobe (a charge the coach denied). Kluwe and the team later reached a settlement.

Philadelphia Eagles (1): Nick Foles will be the Eagles quarterback in the playoffs because of an injury to starter Carson Wentz. Foles said he doesn’t care if a teammate is gay, adding, “I’m going to treat them the same way ... [football players are] normal people, and we just want to treat people decently.”

Read more on the LGBT views of NFL players: