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Bill Polian: All that should matter with Michael Sam is if he can help team win

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Michael Sam eclipsed the Olympics.

Sam, the University of Missouri defensive end, captured the sports world's attention tonight by announcing he's gay. As a player projected to be drafted in May, Sam would become the first active, openly gay NFL player.

Sam's announcement will be viewed as a social and cultural milepost, one the NFL community expected to encounter at some point. Many are relieved the moment finally has arrived, while others are apprehensive.

"I can't say I was surprised," Bill Polian, the former Buffalo Bills general manager and Indianapolis Colts president, said tonight on ESPN. "This is something that's almost commonplace in our society, and it happened last year publicly with [NBA player] Jason Collins, and I think it was only a matter of time before someone came out or announced that they were gay in other sports."

Sam was the Southeastern Conference's defensive player of the year. He recorded 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for losses.

But he's entering uncharted territory.

In 10 days, Sam will attend the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. In addition to going through drills so his speed and power can be evaluated, NFL executives and scouts will interview him. Sam's sexuality now is on the table.

Polian, a Bills Wall of Famer, has conducted hundreds of those pre-draft interviews and shared his thoughts on how Sam will be treated.

"I think he'll be received well," Polian said. "He's a very good player. I think it's pretty clear based on evaluating him as a college player that he can help you win. The players will tell you that's the first and only rule of thumb in the NFL. If you can help the team win, you'll be welcomed as a teammate.

"Obviously, there'll be some public hurdles to cross. I think that'll be the most difficult part because this will be a media event of great magnitude. So the club is going to have to prepare for that and help the players as well as Mr. Sam get through that.

"But as a football player you'll be treated just that way, as a football player."

Polian claimed sexuality never was a consideration when he and his staff screened players. Polian was with the Bills 10 years, the Carolina Panthers four years and the Colts 15 years.

"We addressed personal concerns in the following manner: Are you married? Do you have a fiancée? Do you have any children? Are you supporting any siblings or relatives? Just to find out what his family status was," Polian said. "So I don't know if these questions would, in any way, impinge on Mr. Sam's sexual preference.

"It's not something that I have ever considered a subject for discussion in pre-draft interviews or otherwise."

But Polian never had to interview a prospect who was openly gay. What would be his approach with Sam?

"I probably would want to find out what makes him most comfortable in terms of how the organization can help him," Polian said. "That would be the only question, I think.

"I'd also want to make sure that if we were prepared to draft him -- and I think most clubs will be, just based on what I know of him as a football player -- that we help prepare the organization and the players and coaches for this media scrutiny that will take place. That will be the biggest hurdle."

  • BuffaloFan4Life

    I think Sam is crazy. Not because he's gay, and not because he's not ashamed of it. He's crazy because the liberal hypocritical media will make his life miserable. And they will do it masquerading as the great defenders of his "heroism." While they boost him up on a pedestal for being a "pioneer" of the NFL the millisecond the kid gets drafted, they will never leave him alone. They will be watching like hawks every thing every one of his teammates, coaches and team employees says and does regarding him. God forbid ANYONE on his team gets caught joking around with him via text. Just ask Richie Incognito how that worked out for him, that big bully.nnAnd that doesn't even take into consideration the fans reactions around the NFL. Every drunk homophobic moron that utters an unkind word loudly will be taken to task by the 14 media personalities per week assigned to cover Michael Sam only. And they will be looking for stories, folks. I don't know. Out of 1,800 NFL football players per season, there has to be about 10 - 30 of them who are gay. It's only common sense. Why have they decided not to come out, even now, in 2014, when being gay has become so universally accepted and respected? I think Michael Sam is about to find out, in early May after he joins the NFL.

    • AJ

      He is coming out because someone has to be brave enough to be the first. When more and more come out and it becomes common it will no longer be a story (e.g. black QBs). People who first came out against slavery were considered "radical" and made for many "stories." Someone has to be first.nAnd I am not sure where this "liberal" media is. You could not possibly mean the corporate mainstream media that is controlled by advertisers who want nothing more than to keep the status quo and entice us to buy shoddy products from Asia. The media that sells the masses that the two-party political system works and you could only be a Dem or Rep. Not the media that tells us that Obama is a liberal, when if you looked at U.S. history you would find him more to the right than Nixon. If I ever find something "liberal," not Rushu02bbs definition, but something actually liberal in the media, I will post it.

      • BuffaloFan4Life

        Sorry AJ. The first people to come out against slavery were true American heros. They defined the word bravery. The first white coach to allow a talented black player to play QB was not "brave", he was just smart. Now, I'll hand it to the first black QB's in the college ranks, and in the NFL and AFL. That took a measure of bravery.nnBut I am sick and tired of calling gay and lesbians who decide to come out "brave", or "heroic." It is simply their choice of sexual orientation. Nothing more, nothing less. How on earth anyone can compare that to coming out against slavery or racisim against blacks is way beyond me. Especially since this is not 1972 with Archie Bunker on TV every week. Now an NFL player openly admitting he's gay would be news worthy during those homophobic days. But come on, it's 2014. I cannot find one movie or TV show today that doesn't have a gay character in it. Entertainers are openly gay. Gay marriage is becoming legal in state after state. When does this stop being a story??nnAnd I'm glad you're "independent". But it sounds like you certainly have a problem with Fox News and Rush.

        • Harvsbuddy

          You lost your argument when you said it was a choice.nAnd your inability to see the difference between entertainers and athletes in two quite different workplace settings also reveals more about your lack of depth in understanding such issues.nYou only have to read the comments (some anonymous) of other players, coaches and administrators to know the league still isn't completely ready for more openness.nI would only agree that racism and homophobia aren't necessarily equivalent, but they do have many similarities in how they are practiced.nMore so, even Richie Incognito has publicly expressed regret for some of the things he said and tweeted at his teammate.nI would hope you show some regret for being so ignorant of the real facts yourself.

          • BuffaloFan4Life

            Richie Incognito publicaly expressed his regret because the media destroyed the guy. He had no choice. The Dolphins threw him under the bus, and who knows if the guy will have the chance to play another down in the NFL again

          • Harvsbuddy

            Again, you called homosexuality a choice.nYou lose.nAnd you still ignore the fact Icognito apologizednnThe best part is Sam looks like he's a pretty tough dude, so if he does make it, he won't put up with any cheap shots on or off the field.nYou also still ignore what locker rooms are like.nI'm pretty sure the F-word isn't going to be bandied about so easily in whichever one he does end up working in.nAnd then, there's the uber-Christian players and how they'll react.nTime for the NFL to join the 21st Century.nShould have figured you weren't interested in the real facts.

          • JT

            Both you guys made some excellent points and i agree with Harv that Homosexuality isnt a choice. Sam had no choice but to come out because he would have been hounded by the rumors and speculation that he was gay.And i agree with Buff4 life the media is going to be his worst enemy.They will be looking for any lack of acceptance by any of his teammates and this will turn this into a full blown circus.Can you imagine the first locker room interview with his teammates walking around in towels.?Forget enjoying the draft day this year because Sam is all they will be discussing.Most fans could care less if a guy is gay or not as long as he can play.But the media is going to create Professional sports first gay soap opera.

          • Harvsbuddy

            Let's say the Patriots draft him. Do you think Bill Belichick is going to allow players to shoot off their mouths with the tight ship he runs? The only question going into camp will be if he can make the roster. This was the purpose of him coming out now, because it gives teams time to figure out how they would handle the situation. I think he showed a tremendous amount of courage knowing how it was going to be received. I find it kind of amusing that his college teammates are going to show more maturity in dealing with it than some of his possible professional teammates. In 10 years, this will no longer be half the issue it is now. And BuffFan4Life, it was you who used the term bully. It's not about him being a bully. It's about Icognito possibly breaking the law by practicing work place harassment. Again, he apologized because he was apparently capable of seeing the err of his ways, unlike those who still defend his actions. It was once a big issue to allow female reporters into locker rooms so they could do their jobs. 15 to 20 years later, no one even raises it as an issue any more.

  • MaoSayTongue

    Is he a top or bottom? A bottom would have an easier time ingratiating himself with the downlows, and they'll watch out for him.

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Vic Carucci returned to The Buffalo News as a Bills beat reporter in September. Carucci covered the Bills for 17 years before joining NFL.com as a columnist in 1999. Prior to rejoining The News, he spent three years as a senior editor for the Cleveland Browns.

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida.