NEW YORK — Michael Sam hopes to become the first openly gay player in the NFL, which has emphasized its policies on non-discrimination and workplace conduct in recent months.
However, according to senior Vice President of player engagement Troy Vincent, who was speaking at the league's office in an annual conference with sports editors, 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 at the time. Vincent also spoke about those teammates with a handful of reporters at the NFL's annual meetings in March.
"I think what has changed over the years is now that 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 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, the former Missouri defensive end revealed to his teammates he is gay, which didn't become public knowledge until Sam's announcement in February.
Vincent said there were no issues within the locker room 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."
According to the league, simply because there is a locker room environment inherent in football franchises, teams are being stressed the need to promote a healthy working environment.
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 people come into our league meetings and one individual in particular is a former NFL player who is gay that spoke to our players and coaches and our executives and 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 kind of opportunity."
Greater emphasis has been placed on creating a clear code of conduct in light of the Miami Dolphins locker room harassment case from last season involving the abuse of former offensive lineman Jonathan Martin.
"You never want to see any story that reflects on a situation where we don't have the right workplace environment and that is something we pride ourselves on," Goodell said. "We want to make sure we provide the right kind of workplace for our players, coaches and staff. There are some very good steps that are being taken to train our personnel to make sure that we provide the best possible workplace environment."
The report issued by NFL-appointed attorney Ted Wells indicated that ex-Miami Dolphin guard Richie Incognito led a locker room culture that intimidated and harassed Martin and one staff member. Simply because the locker room culture is inherent in football franchises, however, the league stressed that a healthy work environment must be met.
"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."