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USA TODAY
Jim Corbett, @ByJimCorbett, USA TODAY

Vince Lombardi Jr. knows his progressive father would have evaluated Michael Sam, a standout defensive end out of Missouri, on his merits as a football player and also would have been supportive of the first openly gay NFL draft prospect.

The iconic Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins coach was ahead of his time in treating his players with equality and dignity no matter their creed, race or sexual orientation.

Lombardi might have seemed the embodiment of the intimidating, old-fashioned football coach. But while he demanded much of his players and staff, he did not discriminate.

"My dad's brother Harold was gay, so that's why my dad was very open and accepting about those kinds of things," Lombardi Jr. told USA TODAY Sports. "Michael Sam sounds like a pretty good kid who seems to be strong enough mentally and emotionally to take this on."

But Lombardi held a hammer many of today's coaches do not. He won five championships with the Packers in the 1960s, so what he said went unchallenged. The same isn't necessarily true now.

"My dad pretty much had total control of his locker room," Lombardi Jr. said. "Back in the day, back in the 1960s, that was a coach's dream and wish."

The younger Lombardi says the team that drafts Sam should have a strong locker room and organizational culture.

"I'm sure some team will feel they have the right locker room, the right winning tradition," he said. "I think it has very little to do with how people today view a gay person.

"I would suspect some teams -- teams with a new coach or unsure of the maturity of their locker room -- nothing against a gay player, but I think they would pass because they don't need the distraction."

Lombardi was aware some of his players were gay. He ordered his Redskins assistant coaches during training camp in 1969 to help a struggling running back, Ray McDonald, by pushing him but never mocking him.

"My dad told the Redskins assistants on that 1969 team, when it came to Ray McDonald, 'Don't you hold his manhood against him -- coach him up to be the best player he can be,'" Lombardi Jr. said.

Sounds like a timeless coaching lesson that could apply today.

 
February 12, 2014
 
 
 

 

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