Coaches believe college football would welcome an openly gay player
PHOENIX -- Stanford coach David Shaw does not know Jason Collins personally but was pleased to see the former Cardinal basketball player come out as the first openly gay player in a major American team sport.
"I'm more excited about the reaction to his announcement than the announcement itself," Shaw said Tuesday. "Hopefully we'll eventually get to the point of, who cares? Can he play with his back to the basket? Can he play defense? Can the kid sack the quarterback? Whatever time frame it is until we get to that point, hopefully it's sooner than later."
Pac-12 coaches and athletic directors are among several conferences holding their spring meetings this week at the Arizona Biltmore resort. Formal agenda items include matters like officiating, scheduling and NCAA legislation. But like the rest of the sports world, they took notice of Collins's landmark announcement Monday because it's certain to have a ripple effect on the college level at some point.
"It's gonna happen," said Cal coach Sonny Dykes,. "This will be the first step in people being more comfortable in talking about these types of things."
Will Collins's announcement make it easier for, say, a 19-year-old linebacker to be open with his coaches and teammates?
"I would hope so," said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott. "Sport can be a very powerful thing in terms of changing culture, changing society and promoting tolerance for differences."
"I applaud [Collins] and commend him for having the courage to do it and I think it will only make it easier for young kids coming up, thinking about their own situation, to feel more comfortable."
Reaction to Collins's announcement has been universally positive from his former NBA and Stanford teammates. However, football is known more as a "macho" sport. LSU running back Alfred Blue recently told the student paper that football is "this aggressive sport that grown men are supposed to play. ... So if you gay, we look at you as a sissy." (Blue later apologized.) When the day inevitably comes that a college player comes out, it will likely fall on his coaches to foster an accepting environment.
"As college football coaches, we're educators first," said Washington coach Steve Sarkisian. "This is another example for us to continually educate our young people to continue to live the right way in our society."
Much like the reaction so far from Collins's peers, Shaw thinks the locker room aspect will be smoother than many fear.
"Once you establish that relationship, and the guy works hard and is a valued member of the team and makes plays, locker rooms will treat that guy very well, in any sport," he said.
Of course, Shaw coaches at an affluent school in the famously progressive Bay Area. The degree of tolerance for a prospective gay teammate my differ greatly at Stanford than at another school. On the other hand, today's 17-to-22 year-olds came into the world during a much different climate than their predecessors.
"If you've seen '42,' what [Jackie Robinson] went through and where we are today -- it's not necessarily a direct parallel, but you can also see the future of where this is headed," Sarkisian said. "So OK, what are you going to do about it? Let's be proactive, not reactive."
Ultimately, we won't know how an openly gay football player will be received until one follows in Collins's footsteps. It may be that an NFL player is better-equipped than a college player to become that trendsetter. It may be that whoever takes that step will be warmly received. And it may be that sentiments like Blue's are not a small minority.
"I wish I had a crystal ball to see the future and what's going to happen," Sarkisian said. "Whenever there's change there's always a period of adjustment that takes place, and that's naturally going to occur. Where it goes from there, I don't know.
"But we all have to be cognizant of the fact we are dealing with human beings here. This is not a rule change, it's human beings and it's going to be a sensitive topic. We have to be cognizant to how our student-athletes respond. That's as important as anything."