On Monday, Anderson Cooper 360 featured interviews with NFL linebacker Jonathan Vilma and former NFL punter Chris Kluwe. Both men spoke about Sam's recent announcement and discussed the potential effects it could have as he enters the league.
CNN host John Berman's interview began with Vilma, who has spent the past six seasons with the New Orleans Saints.
After responding to comments he made in a recent interview with NFL Network's Andrea Kremer in which he claimed that an openly gay NFL player wouldn't be "accepted as much as we think he would be accepted," Vilma acknowledged that change is often met with resistance at first.
Vilma went on to explain the challenges that he believes Sam could face in an NFL locker room down the road, per Anderson Cooper 360:
Me being on the inside for 10 years, inside the locker room, I've been around that, and it's not to say that locker rooms are bad, it's to say that there are going to -- there are going to be people that accept it willingly as soon as he comes in, welcome him with open arms, and then unfortunately, there will be some -- I'm about 99 percent sure the minority will say, well, they're not comfortable with that yet. They don't know how to respond to that.
And that's just what's going to happen in the first, whatever, year, two years. You have more players like Michael Sam coming out and saying that they're gay. The transition will be a lot smoother.
Vilma added that he believes Sam will succeed in the NFL, highlighting his courage and leadership traits as the main reasons for his projection.
Kluwe, who made headlines in January after claiming the Vikings released him because of his support for same-sex marriage in Minnesota, later joined in on the discussion.
When asked whether he believes Sam's announcement will negatively impact his chances of making it in the NFL, Kluwe offered an honest response, per Anderson Cooper 360:
Well, I think it honestly does, and I think it's unfortunate that that's the case because it shouldn't hurt his draft prospects what his sexuality is. Just like it shouldn't hurt someone's draft prospects what their religion is, or what the color of their skin is. I mean, the ultimate goal of this nation is that everyone has freedom to pursue their own life, and Michael Sam wants to be a football player.
That's what he wants to do, and it shouldn't matter, you know, what his sexuality is. And I think it's unfortunate that right now we're still in that transition process where yes, it probably will hurt his draft status, but he's making a key step forward so that in the future it won't hurt other guy's draft status. You know, they'll be able to be openly gay. They'll be able to be who they are, and it really won't be a story, it will be a nonissue.
The discussion concluded with Vilma stressing the importance of Sam's ability, not the significance of his sexuality, per Anderson Cooper 360:
"There's really nothing to say. The first thing that matters is, can he play football? So when he steps into the locker room, he steps on the field my concern is getting him lined up and making sure that he knows the call, and he can go out there and play football. And he can play to our ability or to our expectations."
Sam recorded 19 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks and two forced fumbles last season with Missouri, leading the Tigers to a 12-2 overall record and win over Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.
According to ESPN Insider (subscription required), Sam is rated as the 14th-best defensive end available in the 2014 NFL draft. However, it remains to be seen how his announcement will impact where he falls this coming May or if he's drafted at all.
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