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Ryan Clark: Players will want to know what they can say to Michael Sam

Clark Getty Images

So what will happen when Michael Sam enters an NFL locker room?  Steelers safety Ryan Clark has provided a candid assessment of the issues presented by an openly gay player during a visit via satellite to ESPN’s SportsCenter.

Clark said that current NFL players sensed that it was coming, especially with the decision of NBA player Jason Collins to come out as gay in 2013.  But Clark’s concern comes from the manner in which players will now interact with Michael Sam.

“You want to know how you can behave around this person,” Clark said.  “Anyone who has been in a football locker room knows that there’s a lot of jokes, a lot of ribbing.  We’ll talk about anything.  If a guy is fat.  If a guy is ugly.  If a guy’s significant other is not attractive.  These are things you josh each other about and you talk with each other about.  In what ways can you talk to him?  In what ways can you involve him in your conversations?  What are the things you can do and say around him that won’t make him uncomfortable?  That won’t make him feel that he’s being ostracized?  Or that won’t make him feel like he’s being harassed or quote, unquote bullied?”

The H.R./legal department answer will be not to mention it at all.  Then again, the folks from H.R. and legal would likely faint if they heard the things routinely said in an NFL locker room.  Or in plenty of other workplace settings when H.R. and legal aren’t around.

Apart from the things said in jest within the locker room, Sam needs to be ready for harsh comments during games.

“I think it will be said,” Clark explained.  “I think it will be something that’s talked about on the field.  I’ve heard things on the field that even I thought were questionable and even I thought went a little far.  But it’s what some guys do.  Guys read your bio, and speak of guys’ wives.  We had the Steve Smith-Janoris Jenkins situation during the season.  And so those things happen.  Guys don’t pull punches when it comes to players on other teams.”

Fans also don’t pull punches, as we learned this weekend with the Marcus Smart situation.  When Sam’s team goes on the road, fans will say ugly things, and they’ll bring potentially ugly signs.

How Sam and his teammates react will go a long way toward determining how long it lasts.  Hopefully, it won’t be an issue for very long.  Ideally, it won’t be an issue at all.

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83 Responses to “Ryan Clark: Players will want to know what they can say to Michael Sam”
  1. backdapack4evr says: Feb 10, 2014 12:14 PM

    dont ask
    dont tell

    dont care!!

  2. jbaxt says: Feb 10, 2014 12:23 PM

    Guys are not mean to each other in our locker room..

    The Miami Dolphins

  3. nflofficeadmin says: Feb 10, 2014 12:24 PM

    You know who would have been a great wideout playing opposite Plaxico for the Steelers…. Rupal! Dangerous in the red zone, long frame, plays with passion and and wants to win. It seems like a no brainer.

  4. ingraven says: Feb 10, 2014 12:25 PM

    I’m so tired of hearing about this guy already and it just started yesterday. And the combine OR draft haven’t even started yet!!

  5. bestbitter says: Feb 10, 2014 12:25 PM

    To the ones saying ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’.

    As long as I don’t have to hear players reference God, prayer, wives or girlfriends then that’s a fine motto.

  6. ariani1985 says: Feb 10, 2014 12:25 PM

    Just keep him away from clay the one trick pony Matthews!

  7. jbaxt says: Feb 10, 2014 12:26 PM

    Everything will be the same but Sam will take “yo daddy” jokes to a whole new level.

  8. kuranda84 says: Feb 10, 2014 12:26 PM

    Silly Clark…anything you say to a protected class can be offensive.

    Just don’t say anything to them…oh wait…that’s offensive too.

  9. ratbirdking says: Feb 10, 2014 12:26 PM

    Well if we look at the way Pats fans treated Torrey Smith the night his brother died, I can only imagine how podunk and backwater all the classless fans in the NFL will sound when trashing Michael Sam.

  10. dolphins512 says: Feb 10, 2014 12:26 PM

    You know, the key to dealing with diversity is treating everyone in the same way. Do you not think this guy has heard about everything that can be said about him at some point in his life?

    Why not just treat him like everyone else? When you start worrying about how you need to treat someone differently, you are feeding into the problem.

  11. The Great Ted Thompson the Genius says: Feb 10, 2014 12:27 PM

    If one guy says one thing and Sam eventually gets cut, Kluwe’s lawyer will be all over him.

  12. fumblenuts says: Feb 10, 2014 12:27 PM

    If he can’t “fit in” with the guys it’s going to be a long and disappointing career for him.

  13. matiberio says: Feb 10, 2014 12:29 PM

    cripes, how about how’s it hanging…

  14. JackedUpSports says: Feb 10, 2014 12:33 PM

    you say: sup man, nice to meet you, lets play some ball

  15. westsiiide says: Feb 10, 2014 12:33 PM

    Tony Dungy seen sharpening his oak stake.

  16. princeopus says: Feb 10, 2014 12:33 PM

    i can see klewe filing to be his agent ….where is klewe?hes quick and loud to poin,accuse,blame,and shame,,but havent heard him say one word in support of this kid?????????

  17. deflateddome says: Feb 10, 2014 12:34 PM

    I see no reason for this guy to announce his sexual orientation. Unless he is expecting to be treated preferentially or that it will get him a free lunch.

    I voted YES for Gay Marriage in my State, but really what difference does it make on how to talk to him?

    How about Hey Mike..

    He is no different from everyone as a person, and he should be treated like anyone else.

    The problem that I see with the Gay community, is that now that many hetrosexuals have voted in agreement with their rights, they also have to understand that some people will never accept them just like some people will not accept other minorities ect. By calling people names who do not agree with their stance is narrow minded and bigoted.

  18. mmmpierogi says: Feb 10, 2014 12:34 PM

    I have the hat Clark’s sporting in that picture. Thing keeps you really warm — like wearing a heated electric blanket on your head. Highly recommended.

  19. pixelito says: Feb 10, 2014 12:37 PM

    Give the guy some credit, he’s probably tougher than Jonathan Martin.

  20. gohawks7 says: Feb 10, 2014 12:37 PM

    He doesn’t want to be treated any differently. Treat him like one of the guys and everything will be fine. Try to tip-toe around it and it will become a big mess.

    Who the F cares anyway?? Can he play ball?? That’s all that matters. How he lives his life shouldn’t matter.

  21. patriotinvasion says: Feb 10, 2014 12:38 PM

    I think the fact that Sam is a linebacker will help him adjust more easily than a skill position. At 6’2″ 260lbs, straight or not, he can still light up most guys on the team with a big hit.

  22. nickster31 says: Feb 10, 2014 12:38 PM

    BUT, think about the trash talk he can give back.

    Hey, didnt I see you at the gay bar last night?

    You so ugly, I wouldnt do you.

    I wont tackle you that hard later.

    You just got beat by a ______.

    Hey Center, bet you were wishing those were my hands.

    All kidding aside, this took real guts. I hope this kid makes it.

  23. beastmode5150 says: Feb 10, 2014 12:39 PM

    Did he use the term “Josh”? Wow, talk about a flashback. Is he going to drop some “Facial caps” while he is at it?

  24. Davo says: Feb 10, 2014 12:41 PM

    OK, you know when players talk about it “being a business”. Well, you kinda gotta act like it’s a business. Now, in most businesses in America, you just can’t make jokes about sex, gender, race, etc.

    I’m not going to argue whether that is right or just political correctness. The bottom line is you can’t do it – well, unless you want a serious conversation with HR (who wants that?).

    So, just be business-like.

  25. CKL says: Feb 10, 2014 12:43 PM

    Seriously… it’s not that hard. You wait to let the person set the tone with what he jokes about and you repond along those lines. I’m sure guys who have gotten arrested or other sensitive topics have had to face jokes in the lockerroom too. Why is Ryan Clark talking like he hasn’t been in a lockerroom his whole life? I worked in that type of environment, mostly dudes, joking about crazy stuff you’d never call PC nor would we ever say to a customer or around other co workers not in our department. We had one guy who was a race baiter type, and one female who was a forever persecuted by anything type so NONE of us black or white, male or female made any type of iffy comment to them or knowingly around them. It’s not rocket science. This type of joking is part of cameraderie in some environments and has 0 to do with how you actually treat someone in “real life”. I would bet alot that Sam is used to thie type of talk and isn’t as sensitive as some of these PC HR department types. I used to work in HR before Iwent to the non PC nation department and I know which department I preferred.

  26. jgedgar70 says: Feb 10, 2014 12:43 PM

    It’s an interesting question. If someone makes a joke about one player’s girlfriend, then makes a similar joke about Sam, what are the consequences? Sam may have to take the Jackie Robinson approach, not responding at all to the ugly things he will inevitably hear. Hopefully he has an extremely thick skin.

    I think it ultimately comes down to how well he plays. If he has a great camp and preseason, then goes out and makes a game-winning play in a regular season game, I think that will be the end of it within his own locker room. At that point, if opponents try to make a spectacle of him on the field, his teammates will gladly knock a few opponents down in his defense.

  27. terripet says: Feb 10, 2014 12:43 PM

    Clark just retire you care about working at espn more than playing football.

  28. backdapack4evr says: Feb 10, 2014 12:43 PM

    dont ask
    dont tell

    dont care!!!

    if you dont want to know about their wives or religion,

    DONT LISTEN!!

  29. weepingjebus says: Feb 10, 2014 12:44 PM

    “Welcome to the Jets, here’s your fur coat and white leather pants.”

  30. Big Blue On You says: Feb 10, 2014 12:45 PM

    He’ll be the best dressed player during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, when he’s wearing more pink than anyone else.

    And if he gets drafted by Carolina, will he be known as the Pink Panther?

  31. ialwayswantedtobeabanker says: Feb 10, 2014 12:59 PM

    The kind of people who cry to H.R. over guys just busting chops sickens me. It’s the world we’ve somehow devolved into – and it blows.

  32. kingpel says: Feb 10, 2014 1:04 PM

    The fact that they are already planning on saying something negative is probably the bigger problem here. He is basically saying “Look we are stupid and have no self control so when we do insult this guy about being gay how are we supposed to do it so we don’t get sued?”.

    Every time Ryan Clark speaks I realize what a tool he is.

  33. fumblenuts says: Feb 10, 2014 1:07 PM

    When a Super Bowl-winning football coach found out he had a gay player in his locker room, this is what he reportedly told his assistants: “If I hear one of you people make reference to his manhood, you’ll be out of here before your ass hits the ground.”

    The coach was Vince Lombardi, and the year was 1969.

  34. tnrmadness says: Feb 10, 2014 1:09 PM

    Him being gay won’t kill his career.

    The media relentlessly reporting it will kill his career when he becomes like Tebow and more of a distraction than he’s worth.

  35. jusford says: Feb 10, 2014 1:12 PM

    If Ryan Clark and others have to ask what they can say, they already have issues.

  36. kd75 says: Feb 10, 2014 1:15 PM

    You can talk to a gay dude just like you talk to a straight dude.

  37. skinsfan91 says: Feb 10, 2014 1:18 PM

    I think he has to be light about it. Talk about dudes like the rest of the guys talk about women and let the players know they can say whatever they want around him.

  38. theuglitruth says: Feb 10, 2014 1:18 PM

    Poor millionaires…so many problems to deal with…now it’s gays in the locker room. Just a tough life!

  39. savocabol1 says: Feb 10, 2014 1:21 PM

    Call him straight if you want to make fun of him

  40. sdelmonte says: Feb 10, 2014 1:25 PM

    I’m sure he and his teammates at Mizzou figured it out.

  41. raiderufan says: Feb 10, 2014 1:29 PM

    How can you see no reason to announce your sexual orientation in this case? He intends to live his personal life as a gay man. Once drafted someone is gonna notice and the media would be like dogs on meat so much worse than they are right now. Either way he’d have to come out because of the public eye…why not do it on your own terms?

  42. gjdodger2 says: Feb 10, 2014 1:29 PM

    That’s concern trolling. Sam came out to his University of Missouri teammates; what did -they- say to him?

  43. crownofthehelmet says: Feb 10, 2014 1:31 PM

    Everyone’s missing the bigger picture. How in the world does Clark have this much time on his hands?! Since his disappointing season, shouldn’t he be spending every waking minute on preparing for the 2014 season?

    Mr Clark, thank you for your contributions, especially laying out McGahee and Welker, but us fans would appreciate it if you handed in your playbook now.

  44. miamimike1 says: Feb 10, 2014 1:33 PM

    Really? Your an adult so why do you need to ask what you can say? How about talk football since that’s the only reason you all are being paid. There is no need to ask what you are allowed to say. If you even have to ask that question you know you shouldn’t say what your thinking. Why does everything have to be such a big deal? Worry about your own life. If you simply treat others with respect you can’t go wrong. Sad thing is there has to be many guys who are gay playing football past and present and know one even knew. So everyone survived. Lets talk about the draft and free agency not this crap.

  45. realdealsteel says: Feb 10, 2014 1:37 PM

    I can’t wait until he’s not drafted then we can get on with real football stuff. I”m already tired of hearing this.

  46. icanspeel says: Feb 10, 2014 1:43 PM

    It’s not exactly the same, but look at Manti Teo, all this talk and drama with him and he made it through his first year in NFL. Didn’t hear of any locker room incidents, I am sure some razzing went on and fans didn’t let him forget, but he got through it

  47. scmems07 says: Feb 10, 2014 1:45 PM

    i do not think many people or players will have a problem with him in the locker room, the problem will come from the media blowing this up. if his draft stock drops, if he does not get playing time, if he makes a big play or a bad play, if he turns out to be a great player or a bust, the only thing the media will focus on is that he is gay. do not forget about the groups that will be protesting in front of the stadium if he does not play or gets cut, they will use the “it’s because he is gay” excuse im sure.

    he should have just told the coaches in the draft interviews and then told the players of the team that drafted him and tried to keep this from the media, this is exactly the kind of thing they leech off of and make it as a grab for ratings.

  48. gochargersgo says: Feb 10, 2014 1:45 PM

    Does this not apply to all incoming players? Gay or straight, people have different limits on what they can handle as far as being teased is concerned, yes?

  49. paulz624 says: Feb 10, 2014 1:49 PM

    Clark was saying earlier that guys make fun of each other by joking about their wives or their girlfriends, nobody asks if its ok or if anyone will be offended, they just do it, with this guy you have to actually ask him what they can say to him that won’t offend him? this already looks like a disaster waiting to happen, I just hope my team doesn’t draft him, we don’t need the media circus and drama that is going to follow, if anyone thought the Tebow circus was something, you can times this by ten.

  50. richkotitte says: Feb 10, 2014 1:50 PM

    Ryan,

    PLEASE NO , ” I know you’re not now, but were you ever a ‘tight end’? ” or similar narrow minded jokes if this couragious young man ever comes across you….

  51. richndc says: Feb 10, 2014 1:51 PM

    “hello” “how are you?” “My name is Dave, nice to meet you” things like that. I think its funny how many just embrace the whole “frat boy” “Be a real man” mentality–not realizing you are little boys being played like a cheap drum and your values are not the ones your mothers likely raised you with, just conformity in the hopes you will be liked. It’s truly, truly pathetic. Now, go ahead attack me, call names, its all you got. I know 99% of you would not even think about standing up to anything, just cat call from the sidelines, its what you do. You got plenty of company, thats for sure.

  52. steelerfanjo says: Feb 10, 2014 1:54 PM

    Ryan Clark… work on tackling opponents than issues that are media creations. No one cares. Who cares – ESPN, since NFL is out of season.

  53. kd75 says: Feb 10, 2014 1:55 PM

    Treat the guy like you would treat anybody else.

    If you want to crack a joke, crack a joke. He is gay, he probably has a good comeback.

    I bust balls with everyone I work with. Nobody gets offended.

  54. ishudbgm says: Feb 10, 2014 1:57 PM

    In life you make choices and have to deal with the consequences whether right or wrong or whether people understand your reasoning or not. The best thing Sam could do is tell his future teammates on any team that just like EVERYBODY else in the locker room he has no problem being made fun of or clowned on. Over the course of the season the jokes will die down. Eventually he will make a game saving tackle or pick 6 and his teammates will love him despite his sexual orientation. Treating Sam different than anybody else would probably make him uncomfortable because he will not feel like one of the “guys”.

  55. dryzzt23 says: Feb 10, 2014 2:09 PM

    I can see it now. This gay kid gets cut and sues the NFL for discrimination. Everyone will have to walk on eggshells around him since to “offend” him is to “offend” all gays, regardless of the intent or context.

  56. bobzilla1001 says: Feb 10, 2014 2:10 PM

    To all you astute Steelers fans:
    Ryan Clark’s contract is about to expire, and the Steelers have no desire to re-sign him. In other words: Clark’s Steelers career is over.
    Try to keep up.

  57. Steeler's Didn't-but-Will-eventually says: Feb 10, 2014 2:17 PM

    It’s probably safe to just be yourself around him. If he’s one of those over-sensitive sue-happy types then his sexual orientation isn’t what decided that, and teammates will quickly learn to avoid him. Most likely nobody (media included) will really give a dang by the end of training camp.

  58. ras1tafari says: Feb 10, 2014 2:19 PM

    Here’s an idea:

    ***Talk to him like one human being to another***

  59. angrytwitterguy says: Feb 10, 2014 2:29 PM

    Here’s a CRAZY idea

    Act like professionals.

    I know it’s a lot much to ask of multi-millionaires who are privileged to play in this league, but there it is.

  60. heisthejuan says: Feb 10, 2014 2:34 PM

    This is probably what guys were thinkng on the Brooklyn Dodgers when #42 first showed up.

  61. boscoesworld says: Feb 10, 2014 2:44 PM

    As much play as this has gotten it really makes the NFL locker rooms sound like a bunch of sensitive middle schoolers who are afraid of cooties. I thought they were supposed to be “tough”.

  62. smilesaustin says: Feb 10, 2014 2:52 PM

    I think it’s silly to wonder “what you can say” to a gay athlete. What does he even really mean by that?

    I’ve had several gay friends in my life and there’s one fundamental truth: if you develop a friendship based on trust and understanding, you can say anything to your gay friend that you could say to a straight friend. They’re just like anybody else.

    Obviously similar to telling race jokes in the locker room, you’ve got to be careful about gay jokes. But you’d be surprised how tolerant someone can be if they trust that your joke is meant to be funny and not hateful.

    At the end of the day, there’s a difference between horsing around with your buddies and being hateful. The latter shouldn’t be tolerated whether there’s a gay athlete in the locker room or not.

  63. crownofthehelmet says: Feb 10, 2014 2:59 PM

    To all you rigid Steeler fans:
    As of today Ryan Clark is a Steeler, and though most everyone who’s a fan knows he will likely not be a Steeler next year, only one or two people actually know for sure, and I doubt they’re commenting on here. Until such an announcement is made, he is a Steeler.
    Try to keep up.

  64. SmashMouthFootball says: Feb 10, 2014 3:02 PM

    As much as I dislike the Steelers he’s got a point. Players may not really care which direction Sam leans but you put a bunch of alpha males together they talk to each other this way. Doesn’t matter if its a locker room, battlefield, or back yard barbeque.

    Supposedly the whole point of “coming out” is that so the person can be themselves. Fine. But that act shouldn’t require anyone else to act different. Everyone else should be themselves too. If the person, in this case Sam, is offended then its on him. It is called tolerance.

  65. theuglitruth says: Feb 10, 2014 3:06 PM

    If a locker room full of unpaid college football division 1 players can handle it…I would expect paid millionaires on a professional level to be able to handle it!

  66. flmike says: Feb 10, 2014 3:17 PM

    How about you start by not being a bigoted idiot. Sam has made it thru 4 years of DIV 1A , prior to that 4 years of HS, I think he can handle your moronic utterings….

  67. akboot says: Feb 10, 2014 3:33 PM

    Doesn’t matter. If someones feelings get hurt, they will find a way to sue you.

  68. shadowman1433 says: Feb 10, 2014 3:48 PM

    The guy’s just setting himself up for a future lawsuit against the NFL. If he gets cut, lawsuit. Drafted to low, lawsuit. Not a starter, lawsuit. He can now use the “This only happened because I’m gay excuse” for anything that goes wrong in his career.

  69. bullcharger says: Feb 10, 2014 3:51 PM

    The guy is a football player. He’s been in a locker room his whole life. It’s not his first rodeo.

    Just because someone is gay doesn’t mean they can’t find locker room humor funny.

    I’m sure players will figure it out quickly. Most people make gay jokes because they don’t know any better. That’s the culture they grew up in. It’ not because they are hurtful people. Once there is a gay person on the team and in their group of coworkers and friends, they will likely not think those same jokes are funny anymore.

  70. mcmccii says: Feb 10, 2014 3:51 PM

    Just don’t act like a freaking caveman!
    NFL players are so wrapped up in this issue, it makes me think many of them have a lot to hide.

  71. southcarolinamike says: Feb 10, 2014 4:11 PM

    Maybe this is a good moment for adults to learn how to act and talk like adults in the work place? Between this story and the Martin/Dolphins story from this year, it could be a good maturing moment for the NFL.

  72. jprcox says: Feb 10, 2014 4:12 PM

    The same freedoms that are granted to this player being openly gay should also allow anyone to verbally say what they want.

    Freedoms are freedoms, and I think in this society we are overly concerned about sensitivity and the restriction of personal opinions.

    “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander”

  73. matzahballz says: Feb 10, 2014 4:21 PM

    If his college teammates can accept and support him throughout an entire season, then you’d like to assume grown men in the NFL can do the same. Unfortunately thats not a reality.

    This kid made a decision and it’s time society catches up to the fact that times are changing. The kid was a Co-DPOY, think his game did the talking.

    Maybe it’s just me, but for all African Americans in the league that have posted the most, from what I’ve seen in regards to him coming out, look back when Jackie Robinson fought against odds to make his race accepted in baseball and the public eye. Your comments now are how society felt when he made that leap. His team stood behind him. This is a big deal, he’s a kid, wish him the best.

  74. mrbiz8505 says: Feb 10, 2014 4:28 PM

    Clay Matthews….you’re not alone!

  75. Joemontanaflacco says: Feb 10, 2014 5:57 PM

    Clark’s confusion over such a simple issue confirms why Flacco was able to outsmart him so easily. Whether it’s dealing with social mores or reading offenses, he just doesn’t get it.

  76. williamshatnerstoupee says: Feb 10, 2014 6:12 PM

    Flacco doesn’t outsmart anyone.

  77. azjohnny says: Feb 10, 2014 6:24 PM

    Probably the same things you would say to any another gay player on the team. There is probably an average of 5 per team

  78. propertyofthebroncos says: Feb 10, 2014 6:33 PM

    This is a ridiculous question. The man is a human, you talk to him like he’s a person. End of story. Kudos to him for being brave!

  79. slobberknockered says: Feb 10, 2014 6:36 PM

    Just say normal stuff? Is that to hard? Shm.

  80. gborange says: Feb 10, 2014 7:25 PM

    It was his choice to come out so it Gould be teammates choice what they can say around him. What he does is his business, but what others say around him is their business. What’s fair is fair.

  81. SilentMajority says: Feb 10, 2014 7:28 PM

    Here’s a novel idea…how about you get to know the guy then you’ll know what you can say around them.

  82. steelcurtainn says: Feb 10, 2014 7:45 PM

    Clark’s confusion over such a simple issue confirms why Flacco was able to outsmart him so easily

    I’d say someone is still grieving over the 2 afc playoffs losses the steelers gave the ravens a few years back. I believe that makes Clark 2-0 over Flacco. Floppo hardly outsmarted Clark…Looks to me, like Clark outsmarted Flacco. Carry on with that statement!

  83. ilovefoolsball says: Feb 10, 2014 9:39 PM

    The dude already came out to his team and things were fine. I think this won’t be as big a deal as people think.

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