Burleson says the locker room would accept a gay teammate

Posted Feb 11, 2014

Speaking on the NFL Network Monday, Lions veteran receiver Nate Burleson said Michael Sam shouldn't worry about teammates as much as he should the fans

Nate BurlesonPhoto: G. Smith/Detroit Lions

Nate Burleson is an 11-year veteran and one of the unequivocal leaders in the Detroit Lions locker room.

Burleson made an appearance on the NFL Network's "NFL Total Access" Monday night and was asked about former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, who came out as gay over the weekend.

Sam, the co-Defensive Player of the Year in the SEC this past season, would be an undersized defensive end in the NFL and projects more as a 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level.

The Lions run a 4-3 scheme, but if Sam was to be selected by Detroit in May's NFL Draft, Burleson says the locker room would be ready for it.

"We have a different type of maturity though in our locker room," Burleson said. "Everybody is talking about the players and how he's going to be received by his teammates, but after just listening to what people are saying I'm not concerned about the guys that he's playing with.

"It's a family atmosphere so regardless of your sexual preference, nobody is going to be too concerned with what you're doing outside of the locker room or outside the jersey."

Burleson said so much of the focus shouldn't be put on how Sam's new teammates will respond to him, but rather how the fans might respond.

"There is one thing that I am concerned about that not a lot of people are talking about is the fans; not everyday fans, but you're going to go to stadiums that are harsh and people don't care if they hurt your feelings or if they say something that isn't politically correct," Burleson said.

Lions team president Tom Lewand issued a statement on Sam Monday afternoon.

"As an organization and football team, the Detroit Lions place the highest priority on inclusiveness and diversity," he said. "We applaud Michael Sam for his courage and proactive approach, and we will evaluate him, like every player, based solely on his ability to help the Lions win football games."

Burleson has a unique perspective on the issue being both a veteran player in the league and the nephew of an openly gay uncle.

"My uncle was a proud gay man," Burleson said. "We're grown men, so we do understand that people do live alternative lifestyles. I think that people fear what is unknown and now people are more familiar with what is going on in our society.

"Your sexual preference doesn't affect the way you play as we see on his college tapes; (Sam) is an incredible athlete, he's very passionate. I think what teams are going to have to do is educate themselves and for those guys that are uncomfortable, they're either going to have to separate themselves from the individual and not cross paths in so many ways, or educate themselves so they're not fearing what they do not understand."