Former Vikings and Ravens center Matt Birk wrote an op-ed opposing expanding the legal definition of marriage for the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2012, which made him an obvious call for comment in the wake of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam’s announcement that he’s gay.
Birk, who now works as an appeals officer jointly appointed by the league and the NFLPA, said Monday that his opposition to gay marriage has nothing to do with his feelings about having teammates who are gay. Birk estimated that he played with 10-12 teammates who were homosexual and whose orientation was known to the team and emphasized that he feels the only issue that really matters in the locker room is football.
“There is a difference between trying to talk about what marriage is and what my feelings are toward individuals. There are actually many people that are close to me that are gay,” Birk said, via Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com. “But in the end, the issue is someone’s sexuality: Does it really ever come into play at work? I don’t think so.”
“I know there are stereotypes about football players and what the locker room is like and all that,” Birk continued. “Some of those stereotypes, sometimes we’re our own worst enemies. We take advantage of all the perks of the locker room. Sometimes that means you act like a teenager. But when push comes to shove, when you’re talking about something like this, this serious issue and monumental of an issue, I really think football players will answer the bell.”
Birk said he thinks most players “are going to be concerned about going to work, doing their jobs and keeping their jobs” and that football will be the focus after a couple of days of questions for Sam’s future teammates and coaches. It’s a popular point of view around the league with Bears General Manager Phil Emery, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Giants owner John Mara and Steve Tisch joining other executives around the league in saying that Sam’s ability to help a team win will be the deciding factor in his professional future.