EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) Wherever Michael Sam winds up in the NFL, he’ll bring plenty of extra attention to his team as the first openly gay player in the league.
The Minnesota Vikings won’t let the spotlight on Sam deter them from drafting him, should they decide his skills and potential would fit with their scheme.
”There’s always going to be that media attention. Brett Favre when he came here was media attention,” general manager Rick Spielman said. ”The NFL regardless, you’re going to have media attention and that’s part of the process, to deal with it. But any player that comes in regardless of religion, race, sexual orientation and all of that stuff, it’s going to be an environment where we’re going to make sure they can thrive as a football player.”
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The Missouri defensive end revealed his homosexuality in interviews published Sunday. Most early projections have Sam, the Southeastern Conference co-defensive player of the year, being picked in the middle rounds. Some NFL general managers have since been quoted anonymously in recent reports suggesting teams might shy away drafting him, not for prejudice but fear of the potential distraction of the extra attention his presence will at least initially bring. But Spielman, in a pre-combine session with reporters at Winter Park on Friday, said he’s not concerned about that.
”I don’t care if a guy has three heads. Black, white, purple, green. If we got a guy that can help you win football games, it shouldn’t matter and it doesn’t here in this building,” Spielman said. He added: ”I know that we will make sure that our culture is created where he could fit in to our locker room.”
Earlier this week, the Vikings released a statement from owners Zygi Wilf and Mark Wilf.
”We commend Michael Sam for being very courageous with his openness on something of such a personal nature,” the Wilfs said. ”His comments will have no impact on how the Vikings view Michael as a football player or as a person. If a player can help us win, we will warmly welcome him as part of the team and provide an accepting, respectful and supportive environment to help him succeed in the NFL.”
Former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe alleged last month that he was released by the team before last season because of his advocacy for gay marriage rights and claimed special teams coordinator Mike Priefer made anti-gay comments around him and other players. Priefer, through the team, vehemently denied the allegations. The Vikings initiated an independent investigation, which is still ongoing.
Spielman declined to comment on the investigation or the decision by new coach Mike Zimmer to keep Priefer on staff.
”I can tell you that Mike Priefer is a very good football coach,” Spielman said. ”What I’ve said in the past: very good person and very good family man.”
Spielman also, of course, fielded several questions about the quarterback situation. Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman will become free agents, but the Vikings will try to re-sign Cassel. Christian Ponder is still under contract, and Spielman said he’ll stay that way for now. Trades and veteran free agents will be considered as alternatives if the Vikings can’t agree on a new deal with Cassel, but finding a franchise-caliber quarterback in the draft is again the top priority of the offseason for this team. Ponder is no longer auditioning for that part.
”Christian does have the physical abilities to do it, but for whatever reason things haven’t come together for him,” Spielman said.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner will be heavily involved in the evaluation process.
”You’ve just got to keep getting up there and trying to keep turning it over to try and find that right combination and that right quarterback for your franchise,” Spielman said.