Few college football head coaches have enjoyed more success than Nick Saban. So when the Alabama head coach speaks, people listen. That's why his comments about being willing to recruit an openly gay player to join the Crimson Tide are important.
Antonya English of the Tampa Bay Times provided part of Saban's response about the topic, which has become one of the most talked about hot-button issues in sports over the past few years:
Nick Saban on signing a gay player: "As long as we respect them, and they should respect us, I would have no problem with it."— Antonya English (@TBTimes_Gators) May 27, 2014
Mark Long of the Associated Press passed along further remarks:
Nick Saban, when asked whether he would sign or recruit a gay player, says he would because he's been on teams with "folks like that."— Mark Long (@APMarkLong) May 27, 2014
The comments came at the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla. on Tuesday and after Michael Sam became the first openly gay player drafted into the NFL. The Missouri product was selected in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams.
NBA center Jason Collins, Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury and University of Massachusetts basketball player Derrick Gordon are among the other athletes who served as trailblazers by publicly stating they are gay while still active in the sports world.
One of the most prominent discussions when it comes to gay players is the supposed distraction they will cause due to the added media coverage surrounding them. How that's any different from any other popular athlete who attracts widespread attention is unclear.
Saban, who knows a thing or two about building a program with sustained success, doesn't seem to believe that would be an issue. He's seemingly more concerned about building a strong relationship with the athlete than anything else.
Kevin McGuire of NBC Sports' College Football Talk believes Saban's response is a positive sign:
The response is everything you would hope to hear from a football coach. Saban is saying he would not be opposed to recruiting a gay football player as long as a comfortable environment can be created that works for everyone in the program. Though the quote may come off needing a little more polish, the sentiment is one that would apply to any football recruit. In recruiting, everybody needs to feel comfortable with each other, between coaching staff, players and family.
Over time, it's a sentiment that will likely spread throughout sports. Just like anything else, it will come down to whether players are capable of helping a team win games and not the off-field situation that determines whether they end up on a certain teams.
Whether that will take another year or another decade is the biggest question. Openly gay athletes like those mentioned above are helping show younger athletes it's possible to chase their dream while still being themselves. It's a trend likely to continue.