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Former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam is on the brink of becoming the first openly gay player in the NFL.

However, according to NFL senior vice president of player engagement Troy Vincent, who spoke at a conference with sports editors Thursday at the league's headquarters, openly gay players in NFL locker rooms is nothing new.

Vincent said he played with six players who were openly gay within the locker room but chose not to publicly announce their sexual orientation. Vincent also spoke about those teammates with reporters in March at the NFL's meetings in Orlando.

"I think what has changed over the years is now it has become public," Vincent said Thursday. "In my 15 years in the NFL, I played with six openly gay players in the locker room. It's a workplace, and it's up to those individuals to disclose their sexual orientation. We've also been working alongside Michael's team as a prospect and just preparing him for what life is like as an NFL player. ... It's nothing new for the players inside the locker room, but I think the player addressing that publicly is something we're working on."

Vincent's comments about playing with openly gay teammates are similar to Sam's story. During a preseason practice last year, he revealed to his Missouri teammates that he is gay, though it didn't become public knowledge until Sam's announcement in February.

Vincent said there were no issues between the rest of the squad and his openly gay teammates.

"Yes, it worked," Vincent said. "We won many football games. They were players. We didn't see them as anything different. We were in the locker room together. We traveled together. They were roommates on the road together. We just looked at them as players. We didn't treat them any different, and I don't think the players now look at them any differently."

Wade Davis, a former NFL player who is now openly gay, spoke at the league's meetings last month and helped prompt more discussion about consistent workplace standards for Sam and any future homosexual players who seek a career in the NFL.

"We have had a lot of discussion with our clubs, with our players, with our personnel to make sure that we provide the best possible professional environment," Commissioner Roger Goodell said.

"That's what Michael Sam wants. He wants that opportunity, and I want to make sure we provide him with that."

Greater emphasis has been placed on the code of conduct in light of the Miami Dolphins harassment case involving offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito.

"There certainly are rules in place that we have on the books in terms of anti-discrimination and anti-harassment," NFL vice president of human resources Robert Gulliver said.

"It's also in our collective bargaining agreement.

"But I think what's most important is having the right, respectful workplace culture."


April 25, 2014


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